We often speak about coffee in terms like it’s a one-size-fits-all, basic beverage. In actuality, coffee is quite varied, with presentations, preparations, and types aplenty. The Café Au Lait and Latte are two drinks that are often confused, and while similar, are not exactly the same thing.
For all things "café au lait vs. latte," stay right here, because we're covering all their similarities and differences!
What is Café Au Lait? (Overview & How They Are Made)
Café au lait may sound quite sophisticated, but I’m here to tell you that it really just means a coffee and heated milk combo. Have you ever combined your regular old coffee pot with a bit of warmed milk? If "yes," you've made a café au lait. The name literally means “coffee with milk” in French.
If you go into a café and order one, you’ll see it typically served either in a white mug or bowl. It will almost always consist of a simple mix of 50% coffee, 50% milk. You can simply heat your milk or wait until it’s nice and frothy. With American café au laits, it’s common to have your drip coffee with scalded milk (milk heated just before it boils) along with chicory added in.
You may see some cafes prepare their café au laits with a bit of foam on top, though this isn’t the traditional style. Moreover, there are some purists who prefer French press brewed coffee instead of drip.
The introduction of milk to coffee is thanks to the French. All the way back in the early 1600s, coffee arrived in Paris. Previously, the beverage wasn’t seen much outside of Ethiopia and Arabia, who weren’t much about drinking milk, so this really changed things up.
If you're someone who loves having a nice cup of coffee with (or for) breakfast, then the café au lait is a simplistic-yet-delicious option. It takes very little time and effort to prepare, making it an excellent choice for those always on the go. As it only requires brewed coffee, it’s a much more accessible drink for many people to make at home, as most of us have a coffee pot already.
What is a Latte? (Overview & How They Are Made)
Most of us are more familiar with lattes, whether we’ve tried them ourselves or simply heard of them. Coming from "caffe e latte" in Italian, which means "coffee and milk," you can see why it could be easy to get lattes and café au laits confused!
Thick, creamy, and luxurious, the latte offers a wonderful combination of espresso and steamed milk. While you can technically vary the ratios a bit, the standard is 1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk, and on top lies a thin layer of foam. You'll first prepare either a single or double espresso shot and then move on to foaming your milk.
Milk must be free of any large air bubbles. Pour frothed milk into espresso, leaving a bit of stiff foam to sit on top once you're done.
Another reason why the latte is so incredibly popular is that it's extremely versatile and easily customizable to each individual's liking. You can choose to have your latte on ice, or even add in a flavored syrup for extra sweetness or just something different. Vanilla and mocha are the most common, though you can go as crazy as pumpkin, hazelnut, raspberry, etcetera!
For an extra-strong coffee impact, you can add more espresso shots and keep the milk quantity the same.
As you could probably guess by the name, the café latte originated in Italy. It quickly spread all over Europe and then was adopted in the US as well. It absolutely grew in popularity with help from Starbucks and other more accessible coffee franchises. Lattes are appealing to a wide audience, even those who aren't typically coffee fans. This is because, with lattes, you have a very smooth, balanced flavor with the steamed milk offsetting a lot of espresso's naturally bold bitterness.
In the US, latte art really gained steam and arguably made the drink even more "mainstream," popping up on college campuses and city centers everywhere.
Café Au Lait vs Latte: Differences You Need to Know
So, what’s the main difference between latte and café au lait drinks? There are quite a few! Let's go through them so that you can further your expertise!
1. Milk & Foam Content
As we already covered, both contain milk. However, each one uses different milk preparations and proportions. First, a café au lait doesn’t traditionally include foam, whereas a latte does incorporate a thin layer on top. A latte is around 2/3 steamed milk, where a café au lait is half warm milk. Put simply, a latte consists of mostly milk, where a café au lait is equal parts coffee and milk.
2. Caffeine Content
If we’re going by the traditional way of preparing both drinks, a café au lait will have more caffeine, coming in at 90 mg of caffeine while a latte has 68 mg.
3. Coffee Type Used
A latte uses fresh espresso, while a café au lait uses filter/drip coffee. You can also opt for French press coffee for a stronger café au lait.
4. Calorie Content
As a latte uses a significantly greater amount of milk than a café au lait, you can expect lattes to always have a higher calorie content. This is, of course, assuming that both drinks include whole milk.
5. Preparation and Art
Lattes are almost an art form, both in the fact that they must be prepared in a certain order and method, and that you can literally create latte art by free pouring. A café au lait isn’t quite as visually impressive, and as the only requirements are that it's just 50% milk, 50% coffee, preparation doesn't matter much.
6. Serving Sizes
Lattes are typically 10 ounces, with everything added in. However, café au laits can literally come in just about any size you want!
Once again, with the café au lait, you don’t have much variation. You can change up the milk or use a French press or Turkish coffee instead of drip. However, with a latte, you have virtually endless options between temperatures, art, and syrups!
People Also Ask (FAQs)
Is café au lait the same as a flat white?
Nope! They’re also quite similar, but a flat white is an espresso with a small quantity of steamed milk and a thin layer of foam. Not to be confused with a latte either, the flat white comes with less milk and thinner foam.
How do you make a café au lait at home?
Brew your coffee in your preferred way, filling up half of your cup (whatever size you want). Then, warm up your milk and fill up your cup with it.
How do you make a latte at home?
Pull your espresso shot using your home coffee machine. Steam your milk, pouring it into the espresso once it’s frothy and smooth. To add foam, spoon the leftover milk foam until you’ve reached the quantity of your liking.
Should I use espresso grounds or coffee grounds in making lattes?
You definitely want espresso grounds for your latte. Coffee grounds typically won’t make for a strong enough flavor.
What are some alternative options to cow’s milk for these coffees?
If you’re looking for something other than cow’s milk, you’re in luck! You have all kinds of nut milks (almond, cashew, etc.), soy milk, oat milk, hemp milk, and so much more!
Now that you know just about everything regarding the latte vs. café au lait, are things a bit clearer for you? They're two commonly confused drinks, but now you can show off your knowledge everywhere you go. Both are delicious, however, and we encourage you to try them both if you haven't already! Thanks for tuning in, and we'll see you again soon!