A café au lait (also called a Caffè Misto and Café con Leche) is a common European drink that’s so ingrained within the continent that it’s simply called “coffee.” You’ve likely had your own café au lait by accident if you love to drink your coffee with a lot of sweetened milk.
What is a Café au Lait?
Café au lait literally translates to “coffee with milk,” which should give you an indication that it’s a hot beverage mixed with milk. While a café au lait can be made with coffee, it’s traditionally made with espresso or Moka. The sweetened milk is often scalded, frothed, or steamed.
You can find café au lait primarily in Spain and South America (Café con Leche), Germany (milchkaffee), and America. If you order a café au lait at Starbucks, they’ll be pretty confused. Order a Caffè Misto instead to get the half milk, half coffee beverage you’re looking for.
Is a Café au Lait a Capuccino?
A café au lait can be a cappuccino if the cup is small enough. A cappuccino is one shot of espresso and steamed milk. If the cappuccino has a ratio of one to one for the espresso and milk, your drink is a café au lait and cappuccino! Although coffee enthusiasts may disagree.
If you have a coffee enthusiast in your life, give a coffee subscription as a gift. Or, you could purchase an espresso machine, so they can make a warm café au lait at home.
How to Make a Café au Lait
It’s easy to make a café au lait. All you need is a large coffee mug, milk of any kind (plant-based, cow’s milk), strong coffee or espresso, and something to make your coffee in.
Here’s how to make an 8z/236 ml cup of café au lait:
- Brew 4 oz/120 ml of strong coffee in a coffee machine, french press, or on the stove.
- Heat 4 oz/120 ml of any milk on the stove, in a kettle, or in the microwave.
- Get your 10 oz coffee mug and set it aside. Add the coffee and milk together in the mug.
- (Optional) Add sweetener and/or froth your milk with a frother wand.
If you want to make latté art, put your steamed or boiled milk in your mug last.
How to Prepare the Coffee
You can make the coffee any way you like, but using an espresso machine or Moka pot are your best options. If you’re making espresso, make sure you brew multiple shots at once. Most machines let you double up on espresso, but keep in mind that espresso is pretty acidic.
Add coffee or decaffeinated coffee instead if you want to try a weaker version of a café au lait. A French Press can double the strength of coffee if it sits in the reservoir for some time, so give it a try. Traditionally, the coffee goes into the warm milk for a café au lait.
How to Prepare the Milk
Milk should be warmed to 150-160°F (65-70°C) for all coffee drinks, whether you’re frothing it or leaving it dense. Add a pinch of salt to the warmed milk to bring out its sweetness, similar to how you would when baking cookies or melting caramel. It really makes a difference.
If you plan to make fancy coffee drinks regularly, we recommend buying a metal pitcher you can set on the stovetop. Warming your milk in the microwave is fine, but it may taste a little sour. With that in mind, only heat milk in the microwave for 5 seconds for every 4 oz/120 ml.
Feel free to stop here, but if you want to lift your café au lait, try frothing your milk with a frothing wand. Start at the bottom of the cup and slowly work your way up, or simply froth the top.