Café Au Lait Bowls: The Best Way to Enjoy French Coffee

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If you claim to be a coffee lover but you’ve never tried Café Au Lait, I’m here to say that you might be an imposter.

However, if you grew up somewhere as I did (Small Town, Utah) then perhaps you’re lucky to even have enjoyed coffee at all.

Or perhaps you’re put off by it because you can just order one from your local Caribou Coffee. Well, have no fear. Let’s talk about what the heck Café Au Lait bowls are all about and how you can make one at home!

What is Café Au Lait?

Café Au Lait is a coffee drink that has its origins rooted in France.

Does French coffee sound romantic enough for you?

As with most types of coffee in the region, Café Au Lait follows the European tradition of coffee with milk. Notable similar types of drinks include Spain’s café con leche or koffie verkeerd from the Netherlands.

However, there’s a twist.

Instead of using cold milk (such as you’d use in White Coffee), Café Au Lait uses hot milk to create a unique hot blended drink.

And no, before you ask, a Café Au Lait is not simply a Latte. The confusion is understandable though.

There’s a subtle difference between the two, which makes a noticeable difference for the drinker.

A Café Au Lait, as mentioned, is a hot coffee made with hot milk as a part of the blend, similar to a latte.

The difference, then, is in the coffee itself. Café Au Lait uses a strong coffee as its base as opposed to a latte which uses an espresso.

What’s the Difference Between Espresso and Strong coffee?

There are two main differences between an espresso and drip or pour-over coffee.

1. Brew Time

Espresso generally takes about 25 seconds to pass through the filter and grounds.

A cup of drip, or pour-over, coffee will take a bit longer, as the water lingers in the grounds and filters during the drip/pour process.

2. Fineness of Ground

The beans that are used to make espresso are typically a finer grind that is used in strong or regular coffee.

What’s the Difference between Regular, Bold, and Strong Coffee?

The difference between regular, strong, and bold coffee is also unique.

The terms ‘strong’ and ‘bold’ are often confused. Many people may assume ‘bold’ means higher concentrations of caffeine, while ‘strong’ refers to flavor.

In actuality, the differences are as follows.

Bold Coffee

Bold coffee generically refers to coffee that has a higher concentration of coffee to water than the average cup of brewed coffee. Bold coffees are your dark-roasted coffees. These coffees are considered to have strong, rich, fuller flavors since there’s more coffee in the brew than average. They’re usually smooth in taste as well and tend not to be as bitter tasting as regular coffee.

Strong Coffee

Strong coffee has a higher concentration of coffee grounds to water than regular coffee but doesn’t have to be a dark roasted coffee. Strong coffee is simply defined by the amount of coffee used to brew versus the amount of water. Since these brews can be dark or lighter roasts, the flavor will vary, though it will always be strong. They can be bitter, smooth, dark, or light in the roast.

This means that you need a strongly brewed cup of coffee, but not necessarily a bold brewed cup, for making Café Au Lait.

How to Make Café Au Lait

Café Au Lait

Luckily for everyone as miserly as I can, Café Au Lait is fairly simple to make. And while having an espresso machine would make steaming the milk simpler, you can do it without one.

Ingredients You’ll Need:

  • 1 part steamed milk
  • 1 part strong coffee

Step by Step Instructions

  1. Brew a strong cup of coffee
  2. While the coffee is brewing, pour milk into a Mason jar
  3. Put the airtight lid on jar and shake for about 45 seconds. Stop shaking when milk has doubled in volume
  4. Remove the lid and place in the microwave. Heat on high for about 45 seconds, but keep an eye out to make sure that the foaminess doesn’t deflate
  5. If you don’t wish to use the microwave, you can put milk into a saucepan. Get the milk to a foamy, almost boil, while stirring as it heats
  6. Pour the hot coffee and steamed milk into a large cup or Café Au Lait bowl
  7. Stir the liquids together, and spoon off the milk-foam as you stir

Why Use a Café Au Lait Bowl Instead of a Cup?

While you can use a large cup, like one of the popular soup mugs, a Café Au Lait bowl is, without a doubt, required for the best overall experience if you want to feel truly French.

These bowls are usually decorative, though often come in plain porcelain or ceramic.

Their size makes it easier to stir your coffee and milk seamlessly, and with less mess.

Plus, there’s just something about having a more authentic experience of using the intended glassware.

How to Best Enjoy Your Café Au Lait

After making this delightful coffee drink in your Café Au Lait bowl, you should enjoy a croissant or other French breakfast pastry with it. You can add a garnish of some sort to the Café Au Lait, as well, which will tweak the flavor. Try a sprig of fresh mint for a fresh, unique taste, or a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg to spice things up instead.


If you are confused at all, here’s the synopsis:

Café Au Lait is the French version of a latte. The main difference is that you add warm milk to a base of strong coffee rather than espresso. It is best enjoyed in the traditional way: in a bowl with a pastry.

If you’re still confused, maybe you need a coffee?