When translated, both caffé latte and café au lait mean coffee with milk. So, are they the same beverage with different names? Or is there a major difference between the two?
The Short Answer:
No, caffé latte and café au lait are not the same beverage.
The Long Answer:
In Italian, “caffé latte” means “coffee with milk.”
In French, “café au lait” means “coffee with milk.”
Yes, both of these beverages have the same name and the same ingredients. They’re even both made using espresso and steamed milk. That’s where the similarities end. Caffé lattes and café au laits are actually quite different from one another with wildly different tastes.
The major difference between the two boils down to the milk, and how it is used. In a latte, the ratio of milk to espresso boils down to two parts steamed milk and foam with only one part espresso. The mixture of milk froth and steamed milk typically goes far heavier on the steamed milk. That’s why it takes so long to make a latte. You have to pour the milk into the espresso in just the right way. This has also led to latte foam art, which is one of my favorite things to see.
When making a café au lait, you use steamed milk only, with no froth whatsoever. While the latte was mostly milk with a little bit of espresso, the coffee to milk ratio of café au lait is 50/50. Lattes are also always made with espresso, but café au lait can be made with any kind of strong coffee, which is usually brewed in a French press.
Ordering a café au lait in the United States is very different from ordering one in its native France. That’s because most American café au lait incorporates chicory as a coffee substitute. This goes back to the American Civil War when the Southern states were short on coffee and used chicory as a replacement. Despite the end of the war, many decided they liked this substitution better and it became permanent. This is particularly common in New Orleans, where it is served alongside beignets.
Do you prefer a latte, or are you a fan of café au lait? Sound off below and let us know!