What Exactly Is Café Au Lait?

When morning rolls around, many of you have a difficult time leaving the cozy cave you've crafted for yourself in bed. The outside world is cold, and full of chores and work, while the bed is a safe sanctuary of warm blankets and sweet dreams. Fortunately, there's a solution for your morning malcontents — coffee. If Folgers is to be believed, the best part of your morning is a piping hot cup of joe (via YouTube).

However, though you may upset the fine folks at Folgers, you don't need to have just brewed ground coffee in the morning. In fact, there is an almost inexhaustible list of different coffee types for you to choose from. Some are sweet, some are bitter, some are strong, and some are steamed, but all will give you a jolt of energy to help propel you through the day. One preparation style, café au lait, will result in a perfectly creamy cup of coffee for you to enjoy alongside your croissant.

The components of a café au lait

Don't get overwhelmed by café au lait's fancy French title. It's actually made from some very familiar ingredients. According to MasterClass, café au lait is simply a French expression that means coffee with milk. Those of you who enjoy your coffee with just a splash of milk should avoid ordering this french concoction, as it traditionally calls for a 1:1 ratio of coffee and milk. But don't take the milk straight from the refrigerator — the milk in a café au lait is warmed up before being mixed together with the brewed coffee. As a café au lait has more milk than other coffee drinks, like a cappuccino or a macchiato, it has a noticeably milder flavor profile.

MasterClass also describes the difference between a café au lait and a latte. A classic latte uses espresso as a base, instead of brewed coffee, and the milk in a latte is heated up via steam before being frothed into a foam.

The history of café au lait

According to Nescafé, café au lait is often served in a large bowl. Martha Stewart explains that this practice dates back 1600s. Coffee was introduced to Europe by way of Turkey, and the best way to sip on hot liquids prior to the invention of cups with handles was to sip them out of a bowl. Even after the dawn of handles, the practice of drinking café au lait out of bowls persisted. Martha Stewart goes on to tell us that you can find antique café au lait bowls at vintage stores in France.

Though the name café au lait is French in origin, it isn't the only area where people enjoy unique coffee and milk drinks, per MasterClass. In the Netherlands, they drink Koffie verkeerd, which translates to wrong coffee, which is also an equal parts coffee and milk mixture that is served with a cookie. New Orleans has the American café au lait, a blend of coffee and chicory roots whose invention was necessitated by coffee shortages during the Civil War.