Café Au Lait Vs. Latte (Which Will Taste Better For You?)

Last Updated on May 18, 2022 by John Moretti

The taste brings life to our bones in the morning. That sounds every bit like the addiction that coffee is to many of us. These days coffee is an entire culture on its own. There are so many brands, blends, and flavor variations that it can be difficult to choose your beverage from the menu in the coffee shop. Café au laits and lattes are two milky varieties, but what is the difference between the two?

A café au lait is prepared with equal parts of strong, hot coffee and steamed milk. In some areas, it contains scalded milk instead of steamed milk. A latte is made with more milk than café au lait – usually with two parts steamed milk and one espresso, with some milk foam on top. 

Café au lait and latte are two of the varieties available in the “coffee+milk” combinations. When the ratio is changed a tiny bit, it becomes an entirely different coffee. “Au lait” and “latte” both refer to milk in different languages, with the former meaning “coffee with milk” in French and the latter in Italian.

Café Au Lait Vs. Latte

To save you from the disappointment of ordering the wrong milky coffee, let’s look at the differences between café au lait and latte.

Café Au Lait Explained

cafe au lait

Café au lait is a fancy French name for a simple coffee made with espresso and hot milk in a 1:1 ratio. The milk can be steamed or scalded, but it depends on where you’re ordering your coffee. The French tradition is to steam it, while Americans typically use scalded whole milk. 

How To Make Café Au Lait

The coffee needs to be strong to make the perfect café au lait, so choose dark roasted beans. Whole milk is best for steaming and frothing and pairs best with the bitterness of the coffee because of its rich flavor. If you’re vegan, oat milk steams better than other non-dairy options.

Once you’ve made the coffee, you can steam the milk with the help of an espresso machine or froth it with a whisk, French press, or hand-held frother. Some cinnamon on the top will add some extra deliciousness! 

An excellent café au lait can always be further enhanced by serving it with fresh, buttery croissants, warm scones, or delicious muffins and pastries. 

Café Au Lait Across The Globe

cafe au lait how

In France, the birthplace of café au lait, the coffee shops make it with equal parts of steamed milk and espresso. Unlike many other coffee types, café au lait does not have a milk foam topping. They will usually serve it in a small but wide glass bowl.

In other places, people often replace the espresso with strong brewed coffee and serve it in a cappuccino cup to better retain the heat. Using regular brewed coffee as a base for the café au lait means that you don’t need a machine to make it. A French press is often the vessel of choice to make this milky beverage. 

A famous version of the café au lait is the traditional New Orleans one. It is a combination of coffee, chicory, and scalded milk. It became popular during difficult times such as the American Civil War and the Great Depression, when supplies became scarce. People added chicory to coffee to make it stretch further. Now it is traditionally served with sweet donuts known as beignets.

All About The Milky Caffé Latte

Milky Caffé Latte

When we order a latte, we mean that we want a special coffee with milk, but “latte” alone simply means milk. So if you had to order a latte in Italy, the waitress would serve you a glass of milk. Remember to add the “caffé” to your order when you visit. 

A caffé latte comprises steamed milk, espresso, and milk foam. It is a lot milkier than a café au lait with a milk coffee ratio of 2:1. The Europeans can be a little more particular with their proportions. Traditionally a caffé latte is 8 ounces consisting of 1/6 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk, and the last 1/6 would be the foam on top.

Restauranteurs will often serve the creamy caffé latte in a tall glass to display the layers of coffee, milk, and froth. To add to its appeal, baristas frequently serve them with latte art on top, made by pouring the steamed milk and foam in a specific way.

How To Make A Caffé Latte

Latte in white cup and saucer with teaspoon

Strong brewed coffee won’t work for a latte. It has to be espresso. Choosing a dark, bitter roast with a fine grind is vital. Your choices are an espresso machine, an Aeropress, or a manual espresso maker to make your espresso. 

The best to use for a latte is whole milk because of the high-fat content. 2% milk will also work, but it won’t be as rich as the whole milk. Similarly to making café au lait, oat milk is the best vegan option for a vegan latte. 

You will require an espresso machine with a steamer to steam the milk. Put the steaming wand just below the milk’s surface and steam until it whips up to double its volume. Lower the wand, positioning it closer to the side of the jug to create a vortex. This will give you the “wet-paint” look typical of a latte. Continue to steam until the milk temperature reaches 150°F.

Now you can froth the milk using a whisk, a French press, or a hand-held frother. Once you’ve poured your espresso into the mug, it’s ready for the steamed milk. Let the milk stand for 30 seconds to a minute for the foam to mix and then separate a little.

Tap the milk jug on the counter and swish it around to break down any bubbles that are too large. The milk must thicken slightly for a latte, and bubbles must be reasonably small. Pour the steamy milk into the middle of the espresso, leaving the light foam at the top.


If you’re a new recruit, these milky delights are likely to lure you further into the addictive world of coffee. You can make a super café au lait at home with a simple coffee and hot milk combo with no fancy equipment. But that creamy, steamy latte with its double portion of milk is begging you to buy the espresso machine that will take your coffee fantasies to the next level! Indulge yourself!