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Home » Cafe Au Lait: A Simple Recipe For A Timeless Classic

Cafe Au Lait: A Simple Recipe For A Timeless Classic

There are an infinite number of coffee recipes available these days, many requiring fancy equipment or expensive and hard-to-find ingredients. Sometimes it’s best to revisit the classics. A cafe au lait coffee is as tasty as anything at the coffee shop but easy and affordable to prepare at home. Follow our cafe au lait recipe to enjoy this simple pleasure today.

What You Need

  • 6 ounces strong brewed hot coffee
  • 6 ounces milk
  • A large cup or bowl
  • French Press
  • Milk frother

At A Glance


10 minutes


One drink (12 ounces)

What Is Cafe Au Lait? 

Café au lait is a milk coffee drink featuring steamed hot milk and strong coffee in equal amounts. Café au lait originally comes from France. It is still popular there, and in other French-speaking areas in Europe, using a one-to-one ratio of espresso and steamed milk. It is traditionally served in a wide bowl or mug to allow for dunking sweet breakfast pastries into your morning brew.

Cafe Au Lait

The café au lait enjoyed across North America, however, replaces espresso with concentrated filter coffee. It is this café au lait recipe that we’ll explore in our recipe – no espresso machine needed.

How To Make A Cafe Au Lait 

Our North American café au lait recipe is easy to follow, with just three steps and two ingredients. Let’s get started!

1. Prepare The Brew

Use a French Press to make 6 ounces of strong brewed coffee using a higher coffee-to-water ratio or via the double-brewing method. You can also use a drip machine, Moka pot, or Aeropress to make strong coffee. If you have an espresso machine, you can make the more traditional French cafe au lait using a one-to-one ratio of espresso and milk.

Grind whole coffee beans with a quality burr grinder right before brewing for the best flavor. We recommend using a darker roast for a richer, earthier-tasting coffee that cuts through the sweet dairy. 

coffe in grinder
grinding with milk

Pro Tip: Toss a bit of ground cinnamon or vanilla extract into your freshly ground coffee grinds just before adding hot water. The result is a hint of flavor that makes all the difference.

2. Steam The Milk

Measure milk into your frother between the minimum and maximum etched markings. If your frother gives you the option of frothed or steamed milk, be sure to opt for steamed. 

Whole milk or 2% dairy milk are the best milk choices for a café au lait, as they will produce the traditional creamy texture in this milky coffee. But feel free to use a plant-based milk alternative to make your coffee drink dairy-free and vegan-friendly.


Pro Tip: There are many creative ways to make steamed milk at home without using an espresso machine’s steam wand. If you don’t have a milk frother, heat up shaken milk in your microwave, whisk the milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat, or use the French press! If you don’t steam the milk, it is simply a white coffee.

3. Combine The Two, Serve Immediately, And Enjoy!

Pour your coffee into your desired mug, add milk, and enjoy your cafe au lait!

pouring coffee
black coffee
coffee in cup

Pro Tip: For an iced cafe au lait, pour everything over a glass full of ice and use cold milk. Like the milk in café au lait, cold milk can be frothed yet kept cold.

Ready to try more recipes at home? There are dozens of coffee drink types to explore. For your next challenge, we recommend testing your at-home barista skills by making a cafe breve.

Final Thoughts 

Café au lait is a fun way to enjoy your breakfast or lunchtime brew with equal parts coffee and milk. While popular in coffee shops, it’s one of the easiest drinks to make and enjoy at home. Even if you don’t have any specialty coffee gear, there are plenty of workarounds to still enjoy a delicious drink. Bon appetit!


Café au lait simply means “coffee with milk” in French. Cafe = coffee, au = with, and lait = milk. The cafe au lait pronunciation is ka-fay o-lay. This drink is referred to in a variety of ways all around the world, with names like koffie verkeerd by the Dutch, café com leite in Brazil, kawa biala in Poland, and milchkaffee in Germany (1).

The main difference between a latte vs cafe au lait is that a latte has an espresso base and a greater milk-to-coffee ratio. To make a latte at home, use one-third espresso and two-thirds steamed milk, with just a thin layer of foamy milk. Caffé latte means “coffee with milk” in Italian and is usually served in a narrow tall glass to see the layers. 

The main difference between a café au lait vs a cappuccino is the proportions of their main ingredients, and a cappuccino uses espresso rather than coffee. A cappuccino comprises equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk. 

A Starbucks café au lait is known as a Caffè misto. This drink is made with equal parts steamed milk and strong brewed coffee. Starbucks uses darker roasts for a fuller-bodied cup, such as their signature Starbucks® Sumatra dark roast (2).

  1. Choong, K. (2016, November 25). The history of milkcoffee and how it helps your diet. Retrieved from https://thirstmag.com/drinks/The-history-of-milk-coffee-and-how-it-helps-your-diet
  2. Starbucks Stories & News. (2016, July 13). Caffè Misto vs. Latte. Retrieved from https://stories.starbucks.com/stories/2016/caffe-misto-vs-latte/
Dasha Toptygina
I am a writer who delves into all manner of things related to coffee, cats, and characters. I started drinking coffee daily in university and now my entire work, life, and personality all revolve around procuring the perfect brew. I start every morning with yoga, French Press coffee, and some special creative time devoted to working on a magical cat café story... but, more on that later.

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