Cafe Au Lait VS Latte – Knowing the Differences

Since we have had the love of coffee from an early age, there have been numerous additions and variations that we keep learning of every now and then – one of them is the confusion between a café au lait VS latte.

These two European drinks are quite popular around the globe and loved by a lot of coffee aficionados. Both have the same literal meaning – ‘coffee with milk’ – however, in two different languages. Latte is an Italian drink and café au lait is a beverage that originated in France.

. Commercial coffee chains like Starbucks add flavored syrups to lattes.

Now you must be already wondering that these are two drinks with the same meaning, so are they same in preparation, recipe and flavor? Let’s find out.

What is a Café au Lait?

A coffee beverage with origins in France, café au lait (also known as cafe ole or cafe olay) means ‘coffee with milk’ in French language. In the shortest of definitions, café au lait is a half coffee and half milk beverage. A layer of foam might be added on top, however, the main idea is to keep the beverage nice and thin with the addition of milk.

This coffee drink can be easily made at home using a coffee pot and warmed milk – or in a coffee shop with an espresso machine and steamed milk. As per traditions, café au lait is preferably served in a white mug or a bowl.

Those who know this drink well, they might use coffee brewed with French Press for the perfect coffee base for this drink. Also, this shouldn’t be confused with white coffee – that one is made using cold milk or powdered whitener.

Café au Lait – The American Way

The American variant of café au lait is made using near boiling milk, coffee and chicory. Chicory is a coffee-based drink that is made using ground chicory roots.

The use of chicory roots dates back to American Civil War when coffee was in scarce quantity and due to the nationwide shortage during those times, they had to come up with a solution that would quench their coffee thirst with whatever coffee they had available.

The noticeable thing about this drink is that it uses scalded milk rather than steamed or warmed milk. This helps in giving the beverage a strong and bitter taste – the way most Americans love it.

Moreover, the American café au lait is served with beignets – the small doughnut-type sweet delicacies that are widely popular in a few American states, particularly, New Orleans.

Café au Lait in Europe

Depending in which European country you are residing or visiting, café au lait might have a different name altogether. For instance, the Germans call it ‘milchkaffee’ and the Spanish people label it as ‘café con leche’.

In some other European countries, the two terms are used interchangeably to determine the way this beverage is served – for the French serving, they call it café au lait and for the Italian serving way, they will call it the café con leche.

How to Make Café au Lait?

Let us now have a look at the ingredients and the way this drink is made.


As far as the café au lait recipe is concerned, you will need the following items to make a nice, strong, flavorful cup of this delightful beverage:

  • One part of strong coffee
  • One part of steamed milk

Steps to Make a Café au Lait

Once you have the ingredients ready, here is how you can make a perfect cup of café au lait:

  • Add equal parts of coffee and steamed milk in a large cup, holding back the foam.
  • Mix it well.
  • Add the foam that you held back in the first step.
  • Your café au lait is ready to be served.
  • Optionally, you can use the steamed milk to add some artistic element to your coffee beverage.

What is a Café Latte?

Having origins in Italy, the café latte is one of the most popular coffee beverages around the world. In addition to the espresso delight and its flavorful effect, the café latte is known for the famous latte art – an artistic touch that you can give to your drink.

Café latte is usually made using one or two shots of strong espresso that is topped up with steamed milk and with a final layer of foam at the top.

The Latte Art

In order to be able to make the perfect latte art, the first step would be to have the best espresso made with fine quality crema. The milk is then foamed so that the thick layer of microfoam can be used to add artwork to your coffee beverage.

The latte art can be made by using the following two methods:

The Pouring Way – Using this method, you can create latte art by slightly tilting the cup or the mug while you pour milk. The tilted direction will keep the milk on one side of the cup, and once you move the pitcher from one side to the other, the perfect design pattern is created.

The Etched Way – This method doesn’t last too long, however, it can be made using a stick to etch the design on the top of your drink. Most commercial coffee places will add chocolate powder, especially on the cappuccinos, as the foam on that drink is much thicker.

How to Make a Café Latte?

If you are in the mood to make a nice cup of café latte, here is what you need and what you need to do:


The espresso:

  • One tablespoon coffee
  • One ounce of water
  • Optional one and a half ounces of flavored syrup

The foamed milk:

  • 3 ounces of milk

Steps to Make a Café Latte

For a cup of café latte, you just need to follow these steps:

For the Espresso:

  • Place water into espresso machine boiler and add 1 tablespoon of coffee in the portafilter.
  • Press the coffee down using a tamper. This will help in ensuring the ground are packed the right way.
  • Place the portafilter in the machine, lock it tightly and place a cup or carafe under the machine head and pull the espresso shot for around 30 seconds.
  • After this, add a shot of flavored syrup as per your preferences.

For the Foamed Milk:

  • In a cup or a metal pitcher, add milk and insert the steam wand into it with the milk. It should just be under the milk surface and not too deep.
  • The tip of the wand should be kept at the side of the pitcher. Then move the milk in all four directions so that the steam wand can add air into the milk to create the perfect foam.
  • After a few minutes, the foam will have doubled in size. When this happens, switch the steam wand off.
  • Use a spoon to keep the microbubbles at the top of the steamed milk, and pour the 2/3 of the remaining milk from the pitcher into the cup or mug.
  • Add the remaining bubbles at the top of the latte. Add some latte art as per your preferences and enjoy your drink!

Differences between Café Latte and Café au Lait in a Nutshell

Let us have an overview of the major differences between these two popular coffee beverages:

Café Latte Café au Lait
Made using espresso shot, steamed milk+frothed milk and a layer of foam.Made using brewed coffee and steamed milk with no foam.
Traditionally served in a tall glass.Traditionally served in a wide bowl.
Ratio is 1 shot of espresso to 3 ounces of milkRatio is half brewed coffee and half milk.

Concluding Our Café Latte VS Café au Lait Guide

Getting to know about your favorite coffee beverages is a skill that you will learn over the years. Once you start making your lattes and espressos at home, you will get to know what it really takes to become a good home-barista.

If you love to travel around the world, you will realize that the core difference in cafe au lait VS latte is the city or country you’re in. Different parts of the world make these drinks in slightly different ways or compositions.

However, the major differences have been covered in this guide. The rest, you need to fall in love with espresso-based drinks to know it all!