Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ordering Coffee in France. The A - Z of Ordering Coffee in France.

France is a country made for coffee lovers.
Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated July 2019
Grains de Café - Coffee Beans.
Photograph courtesy of Apple’s Eyes Studio through

The A to Z for ordering French coffee begins six paragraphs below.

If you are looking in this post for more about the different types of French bread or more about French breakfast menus click one of the links below:

Ordering breakfast in France.
Some coffee history.
The packaging of most branded coffees will tell you the type of roast, but little else; however, the amount of oil in the bean coffee affects the taste far more than the roast. The perfect roast cannot produce a great coffee flavor from dry, oil-less, beans.
Picking ripe coffee cherries.
Coffee grows inside a coffee cherry,  so coffee beans are really coffee seeds.
However, I will not let the facts confuse us. For this post, coffee comes from beans.
Photograph by courtesy of anankkml through
It is the oil in the coffee bean that makes French and Italian coffees so special.  The French use the oiliest beans followed by the Italians.  American and UK coffees were, until Starbucks, practically oil free!  One of the most important parts of Starbucks’ success was serving coffee with a high oil content. Then,  at last,  America could buy real coffee.  Americans had always been starved for that real coffee taste. After experiencing the delights of coffee when traveling to Europe, they came back to practically tasteless coffee at home;  voila in came Starbucks.   Since Starbucks' early days, they have expanded into so many niche areas that they are no longer considered the leaders in providing the best coffees. Nevertheless, they were the first to bring real coffee to the masses and some of their coffees remain among the very best.   There are two types of coffee beans Robusta and Arabica, and their quality depends on where they are grown, the amount of rain, the soil, and the climate.  These factors will affect the amount of oil in the coffee bean. For each type of coffee the expert coffee blenders test the oil content, only then can the roast come into play. 
For more about the history of coffee see the post:
    French Coffee and Italy.
France, like other countries, has its own coffee traditions. Nevertheless, France began with the Italian traditions as the espresso coffee machine was invented there. Then the French amended the original rules and changed them for French tastes; the most significant change was to use an oilier bean.   In a French café expect coffee from an espresso machine, and in a French home from a cafetière, a French coffee press, or a percolator. One secret: the cafetière, the French coffee press, like the espresso machine, was also an Italian invention.

A cafetière - a French coffee press.
Ordering a coffee in France:
To order a coffee in France, even if you know no French will not be a problem. From the North of France to the South of France all the words you need to know are listed below.
To ensure good service.
When ordering coffee in France use the words listed below with an added “please”.
Please in French is S'il vous plait.   (Pronounced sil vous play).
Extra milk please is Lait supplémentaire s'il vous plaît. (Pronounced: lay suplementair sil voo play).
Extra hot water is  Supplément d'eau chaude s'il vous plaît. (Pronounced: suplementair de oh show sil voo play).

The A - Z for ordering coffee in France.
Cut this lexicon out and take it with you.
Now to order your coffee in France.
Café (Un) Ordering un café, in France, will bring you a single black espresso coffee. Espresso cups are small cups, called a demitasse in French.  A cup of black espresso coffee cup will be offered one-third full, it contains approximately 35 ml; just over one fluid ounce, of coffee.
A demitasse cup containing un café.
Photograph by courtesy of healing dreams through
Café Allongé, Café Américain, Américano, Allongé or Américain Allongé - A black espresso coffee in a regular cup with added hot water, This is more or less the same as an Italian longo.  Remember when you order a coffee in a French cafe it nearly always begins with espresso coffee.  N.B. This is a black coffee; milk will only be added if requested.

Café Allongé with a croissant.
Photograph by courtesy of Paul through
 Café au Lait  – Coffee with lots of milk; the traditional French breakfast drink, a very milky coffee. A café au lait is like a café latte but with more milk.
Café au Lait with a Croissant.
Photograph by Courtesy of Naypong through
For the French, café au lait is for breakfast and was originally only served in a large bowl, not a cup or glass.  These bowls of coffee are still occasionally still seen in French homes and in a few traditional cafes.  Then you will drink your coffee while holding the bowl with both hands.

Drinking with a bol de cafe.
A bol de café holds about 350 ml (12 liquid ounces) of milky coffee
Photograph courtesy of matt.wagers.
Café Blue Mountain - Blue Mountain coffee is considered one of the best coffees in the world. It is an Arabica coffee that comes from Jamaica and it will not be inexpensive. This coffee is grown at heights between 1,800 feet (550 meters) and 5,500 feet (1,700 meters). According to the coffee aficionados, the beans grown at heights over 4,500 feet (1400 meters) provide the best coffee in the world

Café (Bol de Cafe) - see Café au Lait.
Café Cappuccino or Capuccino –A French cappuccino is thirty percent espresso coffee, fifty percent milk, twenty percent froth, and no whipped cream. If the cafe you are in adds whipped cream then you must be in a cafe catering to tourists.
A Cappuccino.
What gave Cappucino its name?
The color of a perfect Cappuccino resembles the color of the hood of a Capuchin friar's robe. The Italian saw the resemblance and gave cappuccino coffee its name.
The word cappuccino has nothing to with the coffee’s froth, but don’t let us get confused by the facts. Many chefs ignore the history behind a cappuccino’s name and have created dishes, mostly soups, and desserts and then cappuccino in their dish’s name indicates froth.     
 Café Crème  Within France, a café crème will vary from the North to the South. In the North of France, it will usually be an espresso coffee with double the amount of water and a little fresh cream or cream and milk. In Northern Europe, but not in France, a café crème is usually a medium-sized coffee served with packaged coffee cream.
Café Calvados - A single espresso with a shot of Calvados. Calvados is France’s premier apple brandy.
Café Cognac – An espresso with a shot of cognac; similar to a café corretto in Italy.  In Italy when you order a corretto a shot of “your favorite” is added, to the coffee, to “correct” it. In France, your addition will be Cognac.
A French Cafe.
Order your coffee  in a café where you see many locals;
that café will have knowledgeable barista.
Café Complet - Not a type of coffee; this is French café menu shorthand used for a set breakfast. A café complet will include a coffee and a croissant or rolls, and or a baguette with butter and jam. Formal French for breakfast is petite déjeuner.
 Café Déca –  see Café Décaféiné.
 Café Déshydraté or Café Soluble – Instant coffee.
Café Décaféiné - Decaffeinated coffee; referred to nearly everywhere as déca and pronounced DE-KA.  If you order café décaféiné, in France, occasionally it may produce blanks looks as déca is the word that is mostly used.  Say café DE-KA, like nearly everyone who wants a low caffeine coffee.  If that doesn’t work, then give them the two correct words slowly and clearly: café décaféiné; pronounced café dee kafinay  Then the penny should drop.
Most town and city restaurants have decaffeinated coffee available even if it only comes in a packet of instant coffee. Larger restaurants and most cafes will serve the real thing made with freshly ground decaffeinated espresso coffee beans.  In cases of serious doubt as to whether the coffee is decaffeinated or not, you may always promise to come back the next day and demand justice and a meal on the house if you could not sleep!
 Café Demitasse -  Literally a half a cup; the name used for those small espresso coffee cups. When you order a café demitasse you will receive a single shot of black espresso coffee, this is exactly the same as if you ordered Un Café.
Café Double  -  A double black, espresso; double the coffee in a standard small espresso cup with double the water. In Italy, this is a café dopio.

Café Express – Another way the French may order a regular single black espresso coffee.

Café Espresso -  Yet another was to order a single black, espresso coffee. 

Café Espresso avec Creme Fouetté -  This is Café con Panna in Italy; an espresso with a little whipped cream. Espresso con Panna will occasionally be on the menu in French coffee bars under the original Italian name.  Some French cafes may offer Cafe Espresso avec Creme Chantilly. Click here for the post on the chef who created Chantilly cream.
Café Filtré - Filtered coffee; the way most coffee is still made in the USA. Hot water poured through a paper or metal foil filter holding ground coffee. In France rarely seen and then only in private homes.
Café Hag - The first decaffeinated coffee was invented by employees of Ludwig Roselius, a German coffee merchant, Roselius introduced his product in France in 1923 under the name Café Sanka. Roselius created the name Sanka, especially for the French market. The French words for "without caffeine" are sans caffeine, ergo SAN-KA. In 1923 Roselius came to the USA and founded the Sanka Coffee Company; in 1932 the General Foods Corporation, later Kraft, bought his company. Then in 1979 Kraft purchased the German company, Kaffee Hag, from Roselius's son (see Café Décaféiné).
Café Instantané, Café soluble or Café Déshydraté - Instant coffee.
Café Java - Java coffee. Coffee from beans that are grown in Java, Indonesia; good Java coffee will be made from blended Robusta coffee.
Café Latte – The Italian name for an espresso coffee combined with a large amount of steam heated milk. In Europe that will be about 20% espresso coffee and 80% milk. In Italy, a café latte is usually served in a glass. The Italians usually drink cafe latte for breakfast.
An Italian Caffe Latté
Photograph by courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn through
In France ordering a café au lait is the nearest you will get to an Italian caffe latté.  They are similar, but the café au lait is milkier. Despite that caveat, a number of French cafés have bowed to the demands of tourists and added caffe latté to their menus. So now even in France, when ordering coffee in the larger towns and cities you may be able to order a caffe latté; check the menu.
Café Liégeois This is a cold dessert; it is not a variation on a cup of coffee. This is coffee, ice cream, and whipped cream, all made into a thick and creamy dessert; sometimes it will come with added liquor for that extra punch. Your menu may also offer a chocolate-based version.
Café Moka, Mokha, Mukha, Mocha or Mocca A variety of the Arabica coffee bean originally grown near to Yemeni port named Moka, Mokha or Al Mukha; the correct English spelling depends on who translated the map. Today the Moka bean is grown all over the sub-tropical world, alongside other coffee beans.
Café Moka, Mocha, Moka and, of course, Mocaccino - A coffee drink with chocolate syrup added. Mixed coffee and chocolate drinks developed from the coffee and chocolate creations initially prepared for cakes and pastries in Paris and or Vienna.  Both cities claim the honor; but, it is probably due to Vienna and many French chefs who know their history will second that.  The first pastries made with both coffee and chocolate were called Moka and Mocha pastries. Whether those original pastries began using the Mokha coffee bean is disputed; however, it took only a short while before cafés began to offer a drink made with a mixture of coffee and chocolate called Café Mocha. With the advent of the cappuccino the Mocaccino, froth and all, was also on its way.
Café Macchiato Italian for an espresso with just a drop of milk added. The Italian word macchiato means marked; to the coffee is added just enough milk to make a mark. To make that mark there is less milk than you will get in a soup spoon.
Café Moulu - Ground coffee. If you are buying pre-ground coffee for an espresso machine or for filter coffee this is what should be on the label.
Café Noir – A black coffee; another name for a small black espresso.           
Café Noisette – An espresso coffee with some warm milk added. Noisette is French for a hazelnut and a well-made Café Noisette will have the color of a hazelnut.
 Café Ristretto –A small but extra-strong espresso; double the caffeine when you really need it!
Café Sanka - Decaffeinated coffee. (see Café Hag).
Café Savoyard A specialty coffee from France’s région of Savoie, Savoy; it will be served in a wooden pot with an alcoholic eau-de-vie.
Café Serré – A strong, thick, black coffee. The same amount of coffee as a black expresso coffee, but less water.  The same as a café ristretto.

Café Soluble or Café Déshydraté - Instant coffee.
Cafetière – The coffee press most often used by most French citizens for their morning Café au Lait. Just to make sure that no one buys the wrong machine note that the words cafetière are also used for other coffee makers.  e.g. An espresso coffee maker is a cafetière espresso.                   
A Cafetière
Café Turc– Turkish coffee; the name given, originally, to any coffee. Initially, all imports of coffee came to France from Turkey. Then and now Turkish coffee is associated with finely ground coffee brewed with boiling water, and traditionally served already sweetened.

A Turkish Coffee
Photograph by courtesy of Suat Eman through
In Turkish coffee, the coffee grounds are allowed to sink to the bottom, and since the coffee will be sweetened before serving it will not be stirred. For two hundred years this was the way all coffee was prepared.
Café Viennois – Viennese coffee; developed during the Hapsburg Empire’s wars with Turkey. A modern Café Viennois is freshly brewed coffee, mixed with a semi-sweet chocolate and served with added fresh cream.
Caféine –Caffeine. A decaffeinated coffee is a café décaféiné.
Édulcorant Any artificial sweetener. Not every small French café will have artificial sweeteners, so take some with you; however, Sweet and Low, NutraSweet and locally made artificial sweeteners are available in all supermarkets.

 Taking coffee home.
There are no restrictions on talking coffee home but do pack the beans in your luggage, not your hand luggage.  Buy beans in a supermarket or if you wish to order your own blend to take home go to a brûlerie, a professional coffee blender. All brûleries were originally importers and blenders, but be careful as some cafes have now added the name to theirs. Ask at your hotel for the nearest real brûlerie and consider having a French blend made for you; brûleries will also roast to order.  The makeup of your blend will be kept for future orders. Most brûleries have overseas customers and will ship when you cannot get back to France and need a refill.

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog, contact Bryan Newman.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this information. I watched a video on YouTube. In this video we will see some conversations that will show us how to talk in English when you are at a cafe. What words and phrases would you use if you went to a cafe and wanted to order coffee? This video is very interesting. For watching this video please click on this link:

  2. You are mistaking cl and ml; a cafe (espresso) in a demitasse would be 35 ml. A cafe au lait would be around 350 ml. I doubt even the most ardent coffee lover would get through 350 cl of coffee - around 1 U.S. gallon - in a single breakfast drink.

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