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Cafe Au Lait Vs Latte: What’s The Difference? (A Quick Guide)

You were “today years old” when you found out that cafe au lait and latte aren’t the same things?

Don’t worry. If you don’t know the difference between these two drinks, I’m here to help you.

In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about cafe au lait vs latte. So next time you’re ordering, you know exactly what you’re drinking.

Let’s dive in.

What is a Cafe Au Lait?

cafe au lait

Cafe au lait originates from France, and references to this drink can be found in the letters of the Marquise de Sévigné that date back to the 17th century. 

The name of this coffee drink sounds like something exquisite, but in reality – it just means coffee with milk in French. 

And that’s what this beverage exactly is. When they say “coffee,” the French really mean any type of coffee – as long as it’s strong. So drip coffee, French press, AeroPress, Chemex – all of these brewing methods can work.

To make cafe au lait, freshly brewed coffee is mixed with hot milk, in a 1:1 ratio. The accent is on “hot,” or what you end up with won’t be cafe au lait, but rather plain white coffee.

What’s great about this drink is that you can easily make it at home. Whichever coffee maker you own, you can use it to create a cafe au lait. 

It’s worth noting that there are many variations of this drink around the globe. So for instance, in Germany, they have a “Milchkaffee,” while in Brasil they drink “Café com Leite.” 

In most cases, the difference between these drinks is rather negligible. In Germany, they add slightly more milk, while in Brasil they add cornstarch. 

The one variation that stands out the most is the one you can order in New Orleans. In this region, what they do is add chicory to cafe au lait, making it slightly bitter. 

This tradition dates back to the American Civil War. During that period, coffee was scarce but New Orleanians weren’t ready to give up on their coffee fix. So they added chicory to stretch out their coffee stocks.

What is a Latte?

latte coffee

Caffe latte translates to “coffee with milk” in Italian. Creative, I know.

And if we’re to judge by the name alone, we’d say that there’s no difference between a cafe au lait and a latte. 

But that’s not true.

Now, you already know that Europeans have been mixing coffee with milk for centuries. But what you might not know is that a latte as we know it today actually hails from the United States.

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that this drink was popularized across the country. And it all started in Seattle, at a local coffee shop named Starbucks.

Café latte is made with a shot or two of espresso, which is first topped with steamed milk and then finished with a thin foamy layer. It’s similar to a cappuccino, but with more milk and less foam. 

When it comes to espresso-based drinks, a latte is the most popular order in the United States. It’s mild and sweet, so it’s easily enjoyable even for people who don’t like drinking espresso.

What also makes latte so loved is that you can add different flavors to make it even more up to your liking. 

Oh, and don’t forget about latte art! Baristas often show off their skills by drawing different images on your drink with frothed milk.

Cafe Au Lait vs Latte: What Is The Difference?

A café au lait and a latte both use coffee and milk. But that’s pretty much as far as their similarities go. These two drinks differ greatly on many levels, and in this section, we’ll cover all of them individually. 

Brewing Method

The first and main difference between these two drinks is in the brewing process.

A latte can only be made with espresso coffee. So naturally, this means you can only make it using an espresso maker.

A cafe au lait, on the other hand, is made with strong coffee. But there are no strict rules about which type of strong coffee. It can be a simple brewed coffee.

Most coffee shops use a drip coffee machine to create this drink, but you can also make it using AeroPress or Moka pot, for instance.

Milk Content

milk in coffee

Both of these drinks use a fair amount of milk. 

A standard latte consists of ⅙ espresso, while the rest of the drink is milk. The exact amount depends on the size of the drink. But if a standard order is 8 ounces, that’s about 6.5 ounces of milk!

As far as cafe au lait goes, you need equal parts coffee and milk to make this drink. So for an 8-ounce drink, you need 4 ounces of milk.

It’s also worth noting that a latte consists of both steamed milk and foamy froth. With a cafe au lait, there’s no milk foam.  

Taste & Calories

Since latte consists of ⅚ parts milk, it’s very mellow and sweet. Even though it’s made with espresso, which is a pretty strong type of coffee, milk makes dilutes the taste and makes it very easy to drink.

In terms of flavor, a latte resembles a cappuccino the most. But because the milk is mixed within the drink, it turns out to be slightly more subtle and has a richer mouthfeel. 

Cafe au lait has more coffee content compared to a latte, so it’s stronger in flavor. But of course, the taste is strongly dependent on the type of coffee used for making this drink.

And in case it’s made with chicory, like in New Orleans, you can expect it to be quite bitter, as well. 

As far as calories go, this ultimately depends on the kind of milk used for making these drinks. 

Let’s say you’re using 2% milk. An 8-ounce cup of cafe au lait will have 50 calories, while a latte will have 100.

Of course, you can always make your drink “lighter” by using nonfat milk instead.

Serving

coffee latte

Traditionally, a latte is served in a wide, 8-ounce cup and garnished with fancy latte art. But nowadays, many coffee shops serve it in a tall glass. 

It’s also not uncommon to see a wide range of flavored latte drinks on coffee menus. From vanilla and peppermint to pumpkin spice and Irish cream, different syrups are usually added to make this drink even tastier.

As for the cafe au lait, it was traditionally served in a bowl and held with both hands. But for practical reasons, most coffee shops serve it in wide cups. The size of the serving varies a lot between different places, but it’s usually the same as latte – 8 ounces.

Unlike a latte, cafe au lait is usually served straight. Except for the New Orleans of course, where adding chicory is practically a must. 

FAQ

Still have questions about either of these drinks? Here’s a short FAQ that should resolve your doubts.

Is a latte stronger than a cafe au lait?

Because it has tons of milk, a latte doesn’t appear to be a strong drink. But since it’s made with espresso, that means it has relatively high caffeine content. So, for instance, an 8-ounce cup of latte has roughly about 77 milligrams of caffeine.

As for the cafe au lait, that depends on the type of coffee used. In coffee shops, this drink is commonly made with a French press. Since we’re talking numbers, that turns out to be about 60 milligrams for 8 ounces of coffee.

What does Starbucks call a cafe au lait?

If you look at the coffee menu at Starbucks, you won’t find caffe au lait. Instead, you’ll find caffe misto, which is exactly the same thing. It’s not exactly known why it’s called like that, but we can safely assume that’s for the purpose of easier pronunciation.

Is café au lait the same as a flat white?

While often mistaken one for another, cafe au lait and flat white are two different drinks. Cafe au lait is made with different types of strong coffee, while flat white can only be achieved with an espresso.

What’s more, cafe au lait consists of equal amounts of coffee and milk. Flat white, on the other hand, only has a slight layer of steamed milk on top. 

To Sum Things Up

While at the first glance these two drinks appear to be the same, they’re actually quite different. 

Cafe au lait, also known as caffe misto, is made with strong coffee, so it will give you that energy kick you expect. 

Latte, on the other hand, is more mellow and milky, and often garnished with patterns drawn with steamed milk.

But both drinks are delicious, so try them out for yourself and see which one is more up your alley!

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Viktoria Marks
Viktoria is a writer and a journalist who can't imagine sitting by her computer without a large cup of java in her hand. She loves sampling coffee from all over the world as much as writing about it.