About Café au lait, A French Coffee Drink

Café au lait is a French coffee drink. The meaning of the term differs between Europe and the United States; in both cases it means some kind of coffee with hot milk added, in contrast to white coffee, which is coffee with room temperature milk or other whitener added.

In Europe, "café au lait" stems from the same continental tradition as "café con leche" in Spain, "kawa biała" ("white coffee") in Poland, "Milchkaffee" ("milk coffee") in Germany, "koffie verkeerd" ("wrong coffee") in The Netherlands, and "café com leite" ("coffee with milk") in Portugal. In northern Europe, café au lait is the name most often used in coffee shops.

At home, café au lait can be prepared from dark coffee and heated milk; in cafés, it has been prepared on espresso machines from espresso and steamed milk ever since these machines became available in the 1940s – thus it refers to the usual "coffee + milk" combination, depending on the location, not to a specific drink.

"Café au lait" and "caffè latte" are used as contrasting terms, to indicate whether the beverage is served in the "French" or the "Italian" way – the former being in a white porcelain cup or bowl, the latter in a kitchen glass and always made from an espresso machine, whereas "Café au lait" might be espresso or dark coffee based.

In many American coffeehouses, a "café au lait" is a drink of strong drip brewed or French pressed coffee, to which steamed milk is added; this contrasts with a "caffè latte", which uses espresso as a base. American café au lait is generally served in a cup, as with brewed coffee, being served in a bowl only at shops which wish to emphasize French tradition. The term misto (literally, "mixed") is also used to refer to a café au lait, most notably by Starbucks.

Café au lait in New Orleans has been popularized in part by Café du Monde. There, it is made with milk and coffee mixed with chicory, giving it a strong, bitter taste. Unlike the European café style, a New Orleans style Café au lait is not made with steamed milk. Instead, the milk is warmed over heat to just below boiling. Inclusion of roasted chicory root as an extender in coffee became common in colonial Louisiana, and eventually was incorporated in its local variant of the French-style coffee drink. The bitterness of the chicory offsets the sweetness of the powdered-sugar-covered beignets, a common accompaniment. [source : Café au lait]