Cafe Au Lait vs. Latte: Taste, Quality, How to Make
Given the many types of coffee-based beverages out there, it is easy for an informed coffee drinker to confuse some like cafe au lait and cafe latte.
Many people think that the two the same thing and that the cafe au lait is just a fancy name for cafe latte, but this could not be further from the truth.
While it is true both are made by mixing coffee and milk, they differ in everything from their origin to the ratio of ingredients and method of preparation.
If you want to know which between the two to order next time, it is important to know what sets them apart. But, this piece has you covered as we compare them side by side using different parameters.
Cafe Au Lait
1/2 brewed coffee and 1/2 hot milk
1/6 espresso, 4/6 steamed milk, and 1/6 foamed milk
Brewed coffee and hot milk
1-2 espresso shots, steamed milk, a thin layer of foam, latte art
Standard Brew Size
Taste and flavor
Creamier and bolder
Cafe Au Lait vs. Latte
In their simplest definition, the cafe au lait and the lattes are the same thing given that they are both drinks made from combining coffee and milk. However, there are many ways that the two popular coffee-based brews will differ and below we highlight some of these differences.
1. Overview and Origin
While both the cafe au lait and latte have European origins, they come from different countries and they are also from different times in history.
Cafe Au Lait
Given its similarity with the cafe latte, in many places, the term cafe au lait is used as a latte synonym or to denote any coffee type mixed with milk.
But, the actual cafe au lait beverage has its origins in France and when translated to English the term means coffee with milk which explains why many people use it to describe lattes.
In its original form, this beverage entails making brewed coffee and then adding hot milk to it. However, many variations have come out over the years, and in many places in Europe, it is now made by mixing espresso with steamed milk. In such instances, the method of serving which entails using a small bowl is probably the only way to tell it apart from a latte.
In the USA, there is also a variation of cafe au lait that propped up during the Second World War when there was a coffee shortage. Using this method, the beverage was made by mixing a small amount of coffee, chicory, and milk. You can still get this style of cafe au lait in some places.
Latte is probably the older of the two, and it is an Italian coffee drink that has been part of breakfast for most Italian families for many centuries. The word latte is a shortened term of the Italian term cafe latte that means coffee with milk.
In the traditional Italian homes, lattes were made by brewing coffee in a Moka pot before mixing it with hot milk. But the modern lattes have evolved into a fancier beverage that is made by combining 1 or 2 shots of espresso with steamed milk and foamed milk as a topping.
Also, the modern lattes will be characterized by some fancy artwork at the top which many people will often use to judge the skills of a barista by looking at the elaborateness of the artwork.
2. How They are Made
If you cannot make cafe au lait or latte correctly, you will not be able to enjoy their unique flavors and taste. But, the good news is that making either of them is quite easy.
How to Make Cafe Au Lait
Although there are different variations of these coffee drinks in the USA and across different countries in Europe, making the original recipe involves the following steps.
Step 1: Brew some extra strong drip or French press coffee
Step 2: Warm one cup of milk or according to your desired beverage quantity
Step 3: Pour coffee and milk into a bowl simultaneously (make sure you have equal parts)
Step 4: Add some foamed milk at the top (optional)
Step 5: Serve immediately
How to Make Latte
Step 1: Extract 1 or 2 shots of espresso into a tall glass
Step 2: Add 6-8 ounces of steamed milk
Step 3: Pour a thin layer (about 1 cm) of foamed milk at the top
Step 4: Finish with nice latte art and serve
Read More: 10 Best Latte Machines
3. Ideal Beverage Ratios
Like with all other coffee-based drinks, getting the beverage ratios wrong can mean you end up making a completely different drink and not what was on your mind.
If you are making cafe au lait, remembering the ratio should be super easy as you only need to have the coffee and milk in equal parts which means 1/2 hot milk and 1/2 brewed coffee. For those that also prefer to add foamed milk, the ratio is up to you, but the less you use the better because adding too much can alter the taste of the beverage.
When it comes to latte, most people know that the steamed milk takes up a huge portion of the cup but when it gets to the exact ratios, many coffee drinkers are not sure. But, it is also quite simple as you only need to have 1/6 espresso, 4/6 steamed milk, and 1/6 foamed milk.
4. Typical Brew Size
Given that most coffee chains and local coffee shops have come up with their own brew sizes for different coffee-based beverages, it is hard to tell what to expect.
However, with cafe au lait, the typical brew sizes that you can expect to get in most coffee shops are 10 and 12 oz. But, when making it at home, you can make as much as you want as long as you observe the equal parts ratio rule.
For lattes, the traditional size was 8 oz but nowadays there are different brew sizes given that in places like the USA many people seem to prefer larger brews, and so it is not uncommon to find 10 and 12 oz lattes with the latter being the most common.
5. Best Serving Method
Like the brew size, the serving methods will differ among coffee shops, but most of them still try to maintain the traditional methods.
For a cafe au lait, the traditional serving method will involve putting it in a small wide-brimmed bowl. But, given that this serving method can cause the brew to cool down faster than some coffee lovers might like, some coffee shops will instead use a smaller cappuccino cup to serve it.
Lattes, on the other hand, are traditionally served in a tall glass that allows drinkers to enjoy the distinct layers. While in countries like Australia, this is still the prevalent method of serving lattes, in many places in the USA, lattes are now served in small ceramic cups.
6. Final Beverage Appearance and Flavor
Cafe au lait is often thoroughly mixed up given that you pour milk and coffee simultaneously, and so it looks more balanced. Unless you plan to put some foamed milk at the top you should not expect to get any layers.
The taste and flavor are also more balanced which is also thanks to the perfect mixing. But, depending on the beans used to make the coffee and the brewing style, it will often be stronger than a latte. Also, if you are using French press coffee, you can easily end up with a bitter beverage due to over-extraction.
A well-prepared latte is hard to miss given that it will most likely have a fancy art design at the top which can be anything from the common heart shape and rosetta design to people and animal faces or even ghosts.
Also, with a latte, you will also have thin foam at the top which is clearly thinner than what you would get in a cappuccino.
Read More: Cappuccino vs. Latte
When it comes to the taste, a latte will be milder given that it has more steamed milk, but you should still feel the boldness of the espresso and appealing creamy flavor from the steamed milk.
Which one is Better?
When it comes to choosing between two delicious coffee-based beverages, your best bet is always trying out both and then picking what appeals to your taste glands best.
The same is also true for the choice between cafe au lait and latte, and the best thing about both is that they do not require a lot of ingredients and are relatively easy to make.
Considering things like the brew size, taste and flavor should make the decision even easier. If you are more of a milk person that likes fancy-looking beverages, a latte is your best choice.
But, if you like something more balanced and with stronger coffee taste, cafe au lait would work better for you. Given that this beverage does not require an espresso machine or steamer, it will also be more ideal for those that use more traditional coffee making methods