Delving into the nuances of coffee culture unveils a rich tapestry of beverages, with the latte and cafe au lait standing as prominent figures. While both feature a harmonious blend of coffee and milk, their compositions and origins yield distinct flavor profiles and cultural significance.

The latte, born from Italian espresso traditions, embraces a creamy texture achieved through steamed milk, offering a delicate balance to the robust espresso. In contrast, the cafe au lait, rooted in French coffee customs, showcases a more straightforward fusion of brewed coffee and warm milk.

Let's embark on a flavorful exploration of these beloved concoctions, unraveling their unique characteristics and the artistry behind their creation.

What Is a Café Au Lait?

First and foremost, the term "cafe au lait" translates to "coffee with milk" in English. This straightforward definition points to the simplicity of this beverage compared to its coffee counterpart. Cafe au lait originated in France, gaining popularity during the 1700s when it was commonly consumed for breakfast.

Traditionally, cafe au lait is made with equal parts brewed coffee (often brewed using a French press) and steamed milk, creating a light and mellow flavor profile. The use of brewed coffee instead of espresso also results in lower caffeine content, making it an ideal choice for those looking for a more moderate caffeine boost.

Today, cafe au lait is enjoyed around the world and can be found in various forms, including the famous New Orleans-style version made with chicory coffee. White coffee, also known as "café blanc" in French, is a variation of the traditional cafe au lait. It originated in Europe and has gained popularity in recent years due to its unique flavor profile.

What Is a Latte?

In contrast to the simplicity of a cafe au lait, a latte is a more complex and indulgent coffee beverage. The word "latte" comes from the Italian term caffè e latte, meaning "coffee and milk." The correct Italian term is "café latte. As mentioned earlier, it originated in Italy and has since become a staple in cafes worldwide.

A classic latte consists of one or two shots of espresso combined with steamed milk and a thin layer of foamed milk on top. The higher concentration of espresso results in a bolder and more intense flavor, enhanced by the silky texture of steamed milk.

The latte has also evolved to include various flavors such as vanilla, caramel, and hazelnut, giving it a versatile edge over the cafe au lait. Its bubbly and visually appealing appearance adds to its appeal, making it a popular choice for coffee lovers looking for a more indulgent experience.

The Difference Between a Café Au Lait and a Latte

While both the cafe au lait and latte feature a harmonious blend of coffee and milk, there are key differences that set them apart. The most apparent difference is the use of espresso in a latte and brewed coffee in a cafe au lait, resulting in distinctive flavor profiles.

The cafe au lait boasts a light and mellow flavor with a lower caffeine content, making it an ideal choice for those looking for a more moderate caffeine boost. On the other hand, the latte offers a more intense and bold flavor due to the higher concentration of espresso, making it a popular choice for coffee lovers.

Additionally, the preparation methods also differ between the two beverages. Cafe au lait is typically made by combining equal parts brewed coffee and steamed milk, while a latte follows a specific ratio of one or two shots of espresso with steamed milk and a thin layer of foam on top.

Coffee drink purists might argue that an actual cafe au lait should only be made with brewed coffee and not espresso, further highlighting the distinction between the two.

Is There a Calorie Difference?

In general, the calories in a cafe au lait and latte can vary depending on the type of milk used and any additional flavorings. However, due to the difference in coffee concentrations, lattes often contain more caffeine than cafe au laits.

This higher caffeine content can result in a slight increase in metabolic rate, potentially burning more calories over time. The mixture of milk foam, espresso and hot milk creates a heartier drink compared to the lighter cafe au lait, which may translate into more calories in a latte.

When it comes to milk options, choosing non-fat or alternative milk can slightly reduce the calorie count in both beverages. However, it's worth noting that these substitutions may also affect the overall flavor and texture of the drink. Ultimately, moderation and mindful ingredient selection are crucial to enjoying these delicious coffee beverages without overloading with calories.

Is Café Au Lait Stronger than Latte?

As mentioned before, the cafe au lait and latte have differing levels of coffee concentration due to their use of different brews. A latte is an espresso-based drink, which is essentially concentrated coffee.

This means that in terms of caffeine content, a latte is typically stronger than a cafe au lait. However, this does not necessarily mean that one is better or more flavorful than the other; it simply comes down to personal preference. Stronger coffee flavor lovers might lean towards a latte, while those looking for a milder taste could opt for a cafe au lait.

Some may prefer the bold and intense flavor of a latte, while others may appreciate the lighter and milder taste of a cafe au lait. Ultimately, both offer their unique charms and can be enjoyed according to one's individual preferences and taste. Strong coffee lovers might lean towards a latte, while those looking for a lighter taste could opt for a cafe au lait.

How Much Caffeine is in These Coffees?

The caffeine content in coffee can vary based on factors such as the type of bean, brew method, and serving size.

However, in general, a 12 oz cafe au lait made with brewed coffee contains around 100-150 mg of caffeine, while a 12 oz latte made with one or two shots of espresso may contain around 63-126 mg of caffeine.

It's worth noting that the recommended daily caffeine intake for adults is around 400 mg, so both drinks can easily fit into a well-balanced diet without going overboard on caffeine consumption.

Additionally, decaffeinated versions are also available for those looking to enjoy these beverages without the caffeine kick. A drip coffee maker is the most common method for brewing cafe au lait, while espresso machines are used to make lattes.

Coffee shops use half-brewed coffee and half-steamed milk to create cafe au lait, while lattes require more skill and attention to detail in their preparation. Intense coffee flavor enthusiasts may prefer the bold and intense flavor of a latte, while others may appreciate the lighter and milder taste of a cafe au lait.


Are there variations with cold milk?

Lattes can also be served iced, where cold milk is used instead of steamed milk to create a refreshing beverage. Milk coffee beverages such as cafe au lait are typically not served cold, although some cafes may offer a chilled version upon request. Creamy milk and iced cold coffee drinks are an excellent way to beat the summer heat while satisfying your caffeine cravings.

How is the milk prepared in a latte and café au lait?

In a latte, the milk is typically steamed to create a creamy texture, with a small amount of milk foam added on top. In a café au lait, the milk is usually heated but not steamed, resulting in a simple mixture of hot coffee and hot milk without much froth or foam. Milk froth, milk foam, or a simple dollop of whipped cream can be added to both beverages for an extra indulgent touch.

Is whipped cream used in coffee drink?

Whipped cream is not typically used in a traditional cafe au lait or latte. However, some cafes may offer it as an optional topping for those looking for a more indulgent treat. Overall, the use of whipped cream does not significantly affect the taste or caffeine content of these beverages.

What is half coffee, half steamed milk called?

A half-coffee, half-steamed milk drink is typically referred to as a cafe au lait. However, it may also be called a flat white or cafe creme in some regions or cafes. Half warmed milk and half coffee, a cafe au lait is a simple and delicious option for those looking for a lighter coffee beverage.


In conclusion, the distinction between a latte and a café au lait lies in the composition of these beloved coffee drinks. A latte, characterized by its creamy texture and a small amount of milk foam, features steamed milk mixed with espresso, offering a rich and indulgent experience.

On the other hand, a café au lait, rooted in the French tradition, comprises equal parts of hot coffee and hot milk, providing a more straightforward, smoother blend without the foam commonly found in lattes. Additionally, variations such as iced lattes and the use of a French press for brewing café au lait further differentiate these beverages.

Understanding these differences allows coffee enthusiasts to appreciate the unique qualities of each drink, catering to diverse preferences while savoring the artistry of coffee culture.

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