Cafe Au Lait Vs Latte: 8 Key Differences Explained

There are so many different coffee drinks available these days it's really difficult to keep up - even if you drink coffee regularly.

Café au lait and lattes seem very similar at first glance, but there are a few differences in how they're traditionally served and made.

This guide will give you the full café au lait vs latte breakdown, and help you work out which of the two drinks is best for you.

Café au lait and latte and both essentially coffee with milk. However, despite having similar ingredients there are a few major differences between them. Let's take a closer look:

1. Milk & Foam Content

Cafe au lait and cafe latte are both milky coffees, and hot milk a key ingredient. The main differences are the type of milk used, and the ratio of coffee to milk.

A caffe latte is made with steamed milk. It has 2/3 steamed milk with a thin layer of foamed milk on top. 

A café au lait is half brewed coffee and half hot milk. When making a cafe au lait you don't include any foamed milk, and it's more like a white coffee. An american café au lait is sometimes made with steamed milk, but it's not the most common recipe.

A latte has much more milk added, and it's better for those who silky smooth coffee drinks.

2. Coffee Type Used

One of the key differences between a latte and café au lait is the coffee base. 

A latte is made with a single or double shot of espresso. This have a bold, slightly bitter flavor which is stronger than regular coffee.

A café au lait is made with filter or drip coffee. You can also opt for French press coffee for a stronger café au lait. 

A latte uses bold espresso in the base, but the because it has more milk it actually has a lighter taste.

3. Taste

When it comes to café au lait vs latte they taste quite different. This is largely because of the differing milk types and ratio of coffee to milk. 

A latte is silky smooth with a sweet and mild taste. The high milk content disguises the bold flavor of the shot of espresso and makes the latte taste lighter. Lattes work well with flavored syrups which will further change the taste.  

A café au lait has a stronger coffee taste even though it uses brewed coffee rather than espresso. This is because it has less milk.

If you prefer a strong coffee flavor you should choose a café au lait, but if you like a sweet, milk based coffee drink you should choose a latte.

4. Caffeine Content

Most of us visit a coffee shop so we can get a coffee drink that gives us energy for the day. The two coffee recipes use different types of strong coffee in their base, which impacts their respective caffeine levels. 

A cafe au lait has 60-90mg of caffeine in a serving. This varies depending on the type of coffee used and there's quite a lot of variation in how this milky coffee is made. 

A traditional latte has 80-120mg of caffeine in a cup. Most coffee shops make a latte with two espresso shots, so it gives a strong caffeine kick. 

These popular coffee drinks can vary depending on where you order, but the strong brewed coffee in cafe lattes makes them better for those who want a big energy boost.

5. Calories

Coffee itself has very few calories, and the calorie content of your favorite drink is usually determined by the quantity and type of milk. 

A café au lait has 100-130 calories. A cafe au lait is traditionally served with hot milk and no sugar or extras, but if you do add sugar then the calories will increase. 

A latte has 200-250 calories. The high quantity of steamed milk and milk foam adds a lot of calories, but a latte starts to become really unhealthy if you add lots of sugar syrup on top.

A latte has the most whole milk and therefore it has more calories, and a cafe au lait is better for those on a diet. 

Most milk has a lot of calories, but you can reduce it by switching to a non-fat or plant based alternative. This may slightly change the flavor profile of your coffee drink, but it will reduce the overall calories.  

6. Preparation & Art

The different coffee and milk used means that making cafe au lait is quite different to making a latte. 

A café latte requires an espresso machine for the base, and steamed milk to be layered on top. Many coffee shop baristas will layer latte art on top to make your drink more visual. 

A cafe au lait uses brewed coffee so it's quicker and easier to make. There's no milk foam layer though so you can't create any latte art. 

A cafe latte recipe requires things need to be done in a certain order, but a cafe au lait recipe has much more freedom because it's a just 50% hot milk and 50% coffee.

7. Serving Sizes

Both drinks come in a wide variety of sizes and it just depends what coffee houses choose to offer on the menu.

A latte is typically 8-10oz, but some coffee shops offer 16oz lattes.  

A cafe au lait is typically 6-8oz, but they come in pretty much any size you want. 

It's worth noting that while the two coffee drinks may vary in size, the coffee to milk ratio shouldn't change. 

8. Variations

One thing coffee lovers appreciate is the way you can customise your drink, and both latte and cafe au laits have a few different variations to choose from. 

Popular latte variations include:

  • Caramel latte - made with caramel syrup 
  • Mocha latte- with chocolate sauce and whipped cream 
  • Vanilla latte - made with french vanilla syrup 
  • Chai latte - made with a spiced tea blend 
  • Pumpkin spiced latte - made with spices and cream which make the latte taste a really popular choice in Fall.
  • Iced latte - made with cold milk and poured over ice
  • Dairy-free latte - made with almond, oat, or coconut milk instead of whole milk 
  • Fat free latte - made with skim or zero fat milk

Popular cafe au lait variations include:

  • American café au lait - made with steamed milk topped with regular drip coffee 
  • French press cafe au lait - made with French press coffee to give it a stronger coffee flavor
  • Turkish cafe au lait - made with drip coffee instead of regular brewed coffee

When it comes to cafe au lait vs latte variations then a latte win hands down, which is probably why many people prefer them. If you have a latte machine the world is your oyster, and you should definitely experiment with different flavors until you find the best one for you!


What is Café Au Lait? (Overview & How They Are Made)

Café au lait may sound quite sophisticated, but 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 so, 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 straight up in a white mug or wide brimmed bowl ,and it will almost always consist of a simple mix of 50% coffee, 50% milk.

How To Make A Cafe Au Lait At Home

1. Brew a drip or French press coffee.

2. Heat milk in a pan until it almost reaches boiling point (this is called scalded milk). 

Cafe Au Lait Vs Latte: 8 Key Differences Explained

3. Pour the milk into the mug with the coffee so there's an equal parts of both.

4. Add milk, sugar, sweetener, or other flavors. Americans often like their cafe au lait with chicory added in, and some Europeans like to put a bit of foam on top.[1]

5. Relax and enjoy!

Origins  

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)  

Latte At Cafe

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.

Part of the reason why the latte is so incredibly popular is that it's extremely versatile. You can add in flavored syrup for extra sweetness, or even add more espresso shots to make it stronger.  

How To Make A Latte At Home

  1. Use an espresso machine to brew one or two shots of espresso.
  2. Steam the milk with a steaming wand until there are only small air bubbles left. 
  3. Pour the espresso base into a tall glass and then top up with the steamed milk. Keep adding milk until the glass is almost full.
  4. Leave a bit of the stiff foam on top of the drink. This can be used for latte art if you're brave enough! 
  5. Add in any syrups, sugar, or flavorings, and enjoy!

Origins  

As you could probably guess by the name, the 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. Plus, you can add extra flavors to make it a completely different drink.

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. Just note that latte art is difficult to master, so unless you're a barista you may struggle to decorate your cup of coffee. 


Common Cafe Au Lait & Latte Questions 

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 a little 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! 


Conclusion

When it comes to latte vs. café au lait there are two key differences: how much milk makes up the drink, and the type of coffee used. 

A latte has a bold espresso base and is 2/3 steamed milk. A cafe au lait uses regular coffee for the base and is 50% hot milk. 

The two drinks are both delicious, but a lattes tend to be milder and sweeter, whereas a cafe au lait is better for those who enjoy a strong coffee flavor.

References:

1. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/this-is-what-chicory-is-and-why-it-sometimes-shows-up-in-coffee_n_55918228e4b081449b4c95ff