On our way, or should we say en route, to discovering the world's coffee habits and customs, our next stop is in France. France is known for its culinary excesses and luxuriance - from cheese, wine, and pastries, to a unique eating & drinking culture. Though the French claim to have invented the cafetière – also known as the French press – France is not as famous for its coffee as for its café culture.
Doesn’t it just seem like literally every French person you've ever met or heard about is a coffee drinker? Whether you like the taste or not, coffee is built into the French lifestyle. Morning, afternoon, or evening in France, someone will suggest grabbing a coffee…or 2.
And how do French people drink their coffee?
Café Americain or Café Allongé
An “americano”, as it’s known to Americans traveling in Europe, is what the French would (appropriately) call a café americain or café allongé. That is, it’s a diluted version of their café that many visiting Americans expect when they order a simple “coffee.”
Café or Café Express
You might call this an "espresso", but it’s what you’ll get in Paris if you order a coffee from the bistro. It’s highly concentrated and comes in a tiny cup. You can call it simply “un café” or “un café express”, which basically just means a quick coffee. The waiters in Paris are very efficient with their French and love to abbreviate, so you’ll occasionally hear it called just “un express” as well.
Some French will drink their café with sugar (two lumps of raw sugar come with every order), but cream or milk is a rarity, unless you order a…
Café au Lait
Usually people think this is spelled, “Café Olé!” because that’s how it sounds, but it is actually just the French words for “espresso with milk.” Armed with this knowledge you'll suddenly try ordering everything au lait because it makes you sound like a screaming soccer fan.
In any case, a café au lait is usually just a café and a bunch of steamed milk in a cup or bowl. Voilà!
A variation on the café au lait is the café noisette. Although “noisette” means “hazelnut” in French – do not be fooled – this is not hazelnut-flavored coffee; ordering a noisette means you want just a splash of milk in your espresso, like an Italian macchiato. The name comes from the rich hazelnutty color the espresso gets when mixed with just a little lait.
Make a morning meal of it with croissants and tartines
If you are up and out early (or don’t have a kitchen of your own), stop by at a café for a traditional Parisian breakfast. This usually includes a café au lait, a glass of fresh orange juice, a tartine (a thin, toasted baguette sliced sideways and served with jam and butter), and some croissants. This sugar and caffeine boost will be exactly what you need to tour the city and put on a fancy air of chic aloofness.
So, perhaps what is more important to the French than the coffee they drink is the pâtisserie that goes with it. That and sitting outside, just watching the world go by…