Cafe au Lait vs Latte: Exploring the Differences Between These Two Classic Coffee Drinks


The world of coffee offers a plethora of options, from classic coffee drinks to trendy concoctions. Two popular choices that often provoke debate are the Cafe au Lait vs Latte.

These milky coffee beverages have their distinct characteristics, making them a favorite for many coffee enthusiasts. Despite their distinct names and cultural origins, these beverages share commonalities that make them beloved choices for those who appreciate a harmonious blend of coffee and milk.

In this article, I’ll share my years of barista expertise with you to delve into the similarities between latte and café au lait and their differences, exploring aspects that make these two famous milky coffee drinks so unique.

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What is a Cafe au Lait?


Cafe au Lait, which translates to “coffee with milk” in French, is a type of coffee drink that combines equal parts coffee and milk that’s steamed.

It is known for its rich, creamy texture and moderate caffeine, making it a comforting choice for those who enjoy a milder coffee experience.

Cafe au Lait is typically brewed with dark roasted coffee beans, which contributes to its distinct, bold flavor. The ratio of coffee to milk can vary depending on personal preference, however, in traditional preparations, the ratio is usually 1:1. 

In some places like France and Spain, a Cafe au Lait is usually served in a bowl instead of a cup, while in the United States and other countries, it is typically served in a large cup or mug. 

What is a Latte?


On the other hand, the Latte, also known as Caffe Latte, is a milky coffee beverage made with espresso and steamed milk. It is typically topped with a thin layer of frothed milk, often decorated with latte art, making it a visually appealing option in addition to its delicious taste.

 A traditional latte consists of two parts espresso to three parts steamed milk and about 1cm of microfoam on top. The word latte means milk in Italian. Because of its light and creamy flavor profile, it is a popular choice among coffee lovers.

Furthermore, the drink’s higher milk content tends to dampen the strong flavor of espresso, making it an excellent choice for those new to drinking coffee. The ratios of milk and espresso can also be adjusted to fit personal preferences.

Because of the high milk content, lattes have a significantly lighter coffee flavor than other espresso-based drinks. The balance of milky silkiness and mild intensity makes it one of the most popular espresso-based drinks. Lattes can also be flavored with various syrups like vanilla, caramel, or hazelnut for an added treat. 

We’ve written extensively about lattes and how to make latte art here at Coffee Hex, so check out those articles for even further depth.

What Do the Latte and Cafe au Lait Have in Common?


Both latte and café au lait are crafted using a combination of freshly brewed coffee and milk. The art lies in achieving the perfect balance between the boldness of coffee and the creamy texture of milk. 

The primary ingredient in both is coffee. The selection of coffee beans and their roasting process varies, which in turn impacts the flavor notes in every cup. Espresso, a more concentrated form of coffee, serves as the base for the latte.

On the other hand, the café au lait uses freshly brewed regular coffee.

In regards to milk, both drinks use steamed milk. However, a latte also contains frothed milk on top, which creates its distinctive fluffy layer, giving it a lighter feel than a café au lait.

Another essential parallel between the two is their cultural origins. The name café au lait comes from France and translates to ‘coffee with milk’, while the term latte originates from Italy, meaning ‘milk’. Both drinks have been enjoyed in Europe for centuries and have made their way into cafes across the globe, although some may argue that, in the US, the latte is a popular star compared to the lesser-known au lait.

Their serving sizes are also typically larger compared to other coffee drinks, providing a warming and satisfying experience to consumers. Generally, a latte or a café au lait is served in a larger bowl or wide-brimmed cup to enable better milk and coffee integration and also to showcase the artistry often associated with latte preparation, such as latte art.

Lastly, both the cafe au lait and the latte are loved for their smooth, creamy taste and texture, which makes them a popular choice among coffee consumers who prefer a milder coffee experience. The richness of coffee combined with the soothing taste of milk creates a harmonious blend in both the latte and café au lait. 

Despite these variances, understanding the similarities and differences between a café au lait and a latte can help individuals appreciate the complexity and art in the world of java brewing.

Their shared qualities demonstrate the universal love for the unique combination of coffee and milk, while their differences signify the varied preferences among coffee lovers worldwide. 

Coffee Types in Latte vs. Café au Lait

While the terms may be used interchangeably, there are distinctions between a latte and a café au lait. The primary difference lies in the drinks’ type of coffee.

A latte is traditionally made with espresso, providing a strong and concentrated coffee base.

On the other hand, café au lait is made with drip coffee, offering a milder flavor profile.

Comparing the Ratios of Milk and Coffee

Both lattes and café au laits involve careful consideration of the ratios of milk to coffee. Achieving the perfect balance is essential to creating a drink that pleases the palate.

Lattes generally have a higher proportion of milk to coffee, resulting in a creamier and less intense flavor. The ratio is typically 1:3.

Made with brewed coffee, the Café au lait tends to have a more balanced ratio of 1:1, allowing the coffee’s nuanced flavors to shine through the milky richness. That means there should be an equal amount of steamed milk to the amount of brewed coffee. 

Ingredient and Preparation Differences Between Cafe au Lait and Latte

Ingredients used in Cafe au Lait

Cafe au Lait uses strong brewed coffee and steamed milk, which are combined in equal parts to create the perfect balance of coffee and creaminess.

Cafe au Lait recipe


Unlike a latte, cafe au lait is made with strong brewed coffee instead of espresso. To make a perfect café au lait, you simply need to:

  1. Grind fresh coffee grounds. Your au lait can be made with any roast level, but dark is the most popular. What’s most important is to use coffee beans that are freshly roasted.
  2. Brew a strong coffee via your favorite coffee brewing technique.
  3. Steam an equal amount of milk. 
  4. Combine the two in a 1:1 coffee to milk ratio to create this classic French coffee beverage.

Ingredients used in a Latte

On the other hand, a Latte is made using espresso, steamed milk, and a small amount of frothed milk, resulting in a creamy and indulgent coffee drink with a well-balanced flavor profile.

Latte recipe


To make a Latte, you’ll want to:

  1. Finely ground coffee beans.
  2. Brew a shot of espresso with your favorite espresso coffee maker or even a moka pot.
  3. Steam milk using either a handheld steamer or the wand on your espresso machine.
  4. Combine the espresso and milk with a layer of frothed milk added on top to create the classic milky coffee delight. Overall, you are going for a 1:3 ratio of espresso to milk.

Flavor and Texture Differences Between Cafe au Lait vs Latte

The Cafe au Lait offers a mild and creamy flavor profile due to the equal parts of strong brewed coffee and steamed milk.

The result is a comforting and balanced coffee experience, appealing to those who prefer a mellower flavor compared to a latte.

In contrast, a Latte boasts a creamy and indulgent flavor profile due to the use of espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk.

It offers a well-balanced taste that is rich and satisfying, making it a favorite for those who enjoy a more luxurious coffee indulgence.

Cafe au Lait vs Latte Caffeine Content

When it comes to caffeine content, Cafe au Lait is known for its moderate level, providing a mild energy boost without overwhelming those sensitive to caffeine. This makes it a suitable choice for a relaxing coffee break.

Café au lait contains about 90 mg of caffeine per serving — a moderate caffeine content due to the equal combination of strong brewed coffee and steamed milk, providing a mild energy boost without overwhelming those sensitive to caffeine. 

In comparison, the Latte contains more caffeine due to the use of espresso, making it a suitable choice for those looking for a more energizing coffee option. A 12 oz. latte has about 125 mg of caffeine.

Comparing Café au Lait vs Latte Serving Styles

Both Cafe au Lait and Latte can be enjoyed in various serving styles, catering to different preferences and occasions, whether it’s a comforting morning ritual or a stylish coffee indulgence.

Cafe au Lait is commonly served in a bowl or a large cup, showcasing its creamy and comforting nature. Drinking a café au lait is ideal for those seeking a cozy and leisurely coffee experience.

Compared to a café au lait, the Latte is often served in a tall glass to display its layers of espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk. The stylish presentation makes it a popular choice for those looking to enjoy a visually appealing and indulgent coffee treat.

Comparing Popularity and Origins of the Cafe au Lait vs Latte

Coffee is deeply rooted in various cultures, and the preferences for Cafe au Lait and Latte reflect this diversity. In France, Cafe au Lait holds a revered place as a comforting morning beverage known for its balanced creaminess.

Meanwhile, the Latte has earned widespread popularity in Italy with its indulgent combination of espresso and steamed milk.

Cafe au Lait is particularly popular in France, where it is deeply ingrained in the daily coffee rituals of the French. The creamy and mild taste of Cafe au Lait perfectly complements the leisurely morning routines and relaxed café culture in France.

In contrast, the Latte has gained immense popularity in Italy, renowned for its rich espresso and velvety steamed milk. This luxurious coffee treat has become a staple in Italian coffee culture, reflecting the nation’s appreciation for refined and indulgent coffee experiences.

Latte and Café au Lait Comparison in Different Cultures

Both Cafe au Lait and Latte bear significant cultural significance in their respective regions.

In French culture, Cafe au Lait is cherished for its comforting and unassuming nature, complementing daily life’s relaxed and unhurried pace. 

On the other hand, Latte holds a prestigious status in Italian coffee culture, embodying the nation’s penchant for espresso-based coffee indulgence and aesthetic presentation.

Cafe au Lait in French Culture

Cafe au Lait has long been a beloved fixture in French coffee culture, often enjoyed as part of the traditional French breakfast.

Its smooth and creamy character perfectly aligns with the emphasis on savoring slow moments and fostering a sense of comfort and warmth in daily life.

Latte in Italian Culture

In Italian culture, the Latte symbolizes the artistry and luxury associated with coffee consumption. Whether it’s a quick espresso shot in the morning or a leisurely indulgence in the afternoon, the Latte exemplifies the Italian passion for meticulous coffee preparation and the enjoyment of rich and velvety coffee creations.

Final Thoughts on Cafe au Lait vs Latte

Ultimately, the preference between Cafe au Lait vs Latte is deeply personal and subjective, influenced by individual taste preferences and cultural affiliations.

For coffee enthusiasts, exploring both options can provide insight into the diverse coffee cultures they represent, offering a delightful journey through coffee traditions and flavors.

Café au Lait vs Latte FAQs

  1. What is the main difference between a café au lait and a latte?

    There are a few differences between these two classic coffee drinks. The primary difference is their coffee types. While a café au lait uses regular brewed coffee, often from a French press coffee, a latte consists of espresso and steamed milk.

  2. How is a café au lait is made?

    Café au lait is made by pairing equal parts brewed coffee, often from a strong French drip coffee or French press, with warm milk. This allows the flavor of the coffee to shine through.

  3. What does a latte consist of?

    A latte typically consists of one or two shots of espresso, steamed milk, and a small amount of foam on top. This popular coffee drink is normally served in a large cup or glass.

  4. How is latte art produced with a café latte?

    Latte art is produced by pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso in such a way that a design is created on the surface of the latte. It requires practice and precision, so it’s often seen as a sign of expertise in a coffee shop.

  5. When would a coffee lover prefer a café au lait or a latte?

    The choice between a café au lait or latte often comes down to personal preference and mood. Café au laits are typically chosen for a stronger coffee flavor, while lattes might be chosen for their smooth and creamy texture.

  6. Is there a significant difference in the amount of caffeine between these two coffee drinks?

    Yes, generally speaking, a latte has more caffeine due to the use of espresso instead of regular drip coffee. However, the exact amount can vary depending on the type of coffee used and the café where you purchase your drink.

  7. Which among café au lait or latte is more popular in the world of coffee?

    Both café au lait and latte are popular coffee drinks that are enjoyed by many worldwide. However, it might vary depending on the geographical location. For instance, lattes are incredibly popular in Italy and the US, while café au laits are widely enjoyed in France.

  8. Is it possible to make a café au lait with the same type of coffee used in a latte?

    Yes, one can make a café au lait with espresso instead of drip coffee, but it would technically be a latte. The key difference between the two is the type of coffee used— espresso for lattes and brewed coffee for café au laits.

  9. Why do so many coffee shops offer both café au lait and latte on their menu?

    Offering both café au lait and latte allows coffee shops to cater to different customer preferences. Some like the strong coffee flavor of a café au lait, while others enjoy the creaminess of a latte. It’s all about giving customers more choices to enjoy their experience.

  10. Which coffee drink should I order if I want more milk, a café au lait or latte?

    Both drinks have a significant amount of milk, but a latte typically contains more. In a café au lait, the ratio of coffee to milk is usually 1:1, whilst in a latte, the milk to coffee ratio can be as high as 3:1.

  11. How does the taste of a cup of Cafe au Lait compare to a Latte?

    The taste of a cup of Cafe au Lait tends to be more robust and closer to brewed coffee, given that it uses brewed coffee instead of espresso. On the other hand, a Latte offers a creamier and smoother drink due to the larger amount of steamed milk and foam on top.

  12. What kind of coffee is used in Cafe au Lait?

    Cafe au Lait is made using freshly brewed coffee. This coffee can come from a drip coffee maker, French press, or any other brewing method based on personal preference.

  13. What kind of milk is suitable for Cafe au Lait?

    Cafe au Lait typically uses whole milk because it is steamed and provides a creamy, rich texture to complement the strong coffee. However, other milk varieties, like skim milk, or plant-based milks can also be used.

  14. Are there any variations of Cafe au Lait?

    Yes, there are regional variations of Cafe au Lait. For example, in New Orleans, it is traditionally made with chicory-infused coffee and served with hot milk poured into it.

  15. Can I use regular coffee instead of espresso in a Latte?

    Yes, you can use regular brewed coffee in a Latte, but it will change the taste significantly and will be closer to a Cafe au Lait. This is because espresso has a stronger, deeper flavor compared to brewed coffee.

  16. What is the calorie content in a Cafe au Lait and a Latte?

    The calorie content can vary significantly depending on the type of milk and the amount of sugar added. However, because Lattes typically contain more milk than Cafe au Lait, they generally have more calories.

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