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Grand crème, café crème, au lait: what way to order coffee in France?

We explain the subtle distinctions between the various terms used in cafés

A woman making a coffee in a French café Pic: Art_Photo / Shutterstock

Reader question: What’s the right French way to order a coffee with milk at a café please? What’s the difference between grand crème, café au lait and café crème?

France’s list of different coffee appellations and their endless offshoots for added elements like milk, cinnamon, vanilla or caramel can be really exhausting for foreigners.  

The Connexion spoke to the iconic Paris Café de Flore’s director to help you understand the differences in terms and to order the right coffee with milk at your local café.

Café crème: is a large cup of coffee with hot milk. 

Café noisette: is an espresso with added foam-milk. Noisette is the French term for hazelnut and is to be understood as “a glimpse of foam-milk.”

These are the only two official forms of cafe served in brasseries or cafés.

Grand crème and ‘café au lait’

However, other colloquial terms are now widely employed by French people and accepted and understood by cafés. 

Grand crème: refers to a bigger sized-cup than the usual café crème and is generally understood by servers as simply being a large café crème.

Café au lait: The term is not officially listed by professionals of the industry although it is normally understood as being a café crème or a grand crème if it is a large serving.

Cappuccino and café gourmand

Other forms of coffees are often listed in cafés, including cappuccino and café gourmand.

Cappuccino: The cappuccino is an espresso with foam-milk [usually] topped with sprinkles of cocoa.  

Café gourmand: The café gourmand was created around 1985 by Bernard Boutboul, a restaurant owner, and Hervé Gourlaouen.

It contains a small cup of coffee with one or several small desserts like crème brûlée, a brownie, cookies, chocolate fondant or a scoop of ice cream depending on the café or the customer’s choice. 

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