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Think that French coffee is the same as coffee in your home country? Wrong! Ordering coffee in France if you’re not European can initially be a bewildering experience.
While a normal cup of coffee might be generally understood as that of the same quantity and size as a glass of water in countries in many countries, this gets drastically downsized in France.
I distinctly remember the first time I ordered a cup of coffee at a Parisian café, because I was so confused by the tiny espresso cup that was given to me! I was a naive 16-year-old back in 2010 and traveling across France for the first time. Yes, un café normal isn’t the large cup of joe that you’d expect, but something much smaller and a lot stronger.
Today, I’ve gained an appreciation for French coffee and realize my rookie mistake. Where other cultures might buy takeaway coffee as a quick caffeinated fix, drinking coffee in a French café is a moment of relaxation and to savor its taste.
There’s something so romantically European about having a small cup of coffee at a terrace after visiting a market in Paris, while watching the world frantically rush here and there with their takeaway coffee in unsightly styrofoam cups.
So anyway, here’s a guide to French coffee drinks to make sure that you actually order what you want in French cafés!
Types of coffee served in France
1. Le café normal (normal coffee)
In France, normal coffee is a cup of espresso. When you ask for a cup of coffee in most, if not all, areas in France, the barista will come back with a cup of espresso. If you get coffee at the end of your meal in a French restaurant, you’ll normally get a cup of espresso.
2. Le café serré
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Ristretto coffee or cafe serré in French, short and strong coffee. Some find it bitter due to the fact that the quantity of water compared to the amount of ground coffee is short. If you are sensitive to caffeine, this may kill you #cafe #coffee #ristretto #ristrettocoffee #italiancoffee #caféserré ☕️☕️☕️
If a cup of espresso isn’t strong enough for you, ask for un café serré to get an even stronger version of the café normal! It’s the same amount of caffeine, but with half the amount of water. This is something to take if you really want to wake up!
The language here refers to the lever on the coffee machine that the barista twists to make your coffee. If you want to make it even stronger, tell them to make your coffee bien serré.
3. Le café allongé or américain (American coffee)
Café allongé is filtered coffee in a large cup and is considered to be the normal cup of coffee in the US. This type of coffee is a lot less strong than the café normal. Most places in France also do not do bottomless cups, so be aware that you’re going to have to pay for every new cup that you have.
4. Le cappuccino
Of course, the cappuccino is the iconic Italian coffee in a large cup consisting of espresso and steamed milk foam. I love cappuccino, and honestly, the best type of cappuccino is one with a foamy top, retains a rich base, and still slightly has some espresso notes. While Italian, it’s widely served across the country.
5. Le café mocha
The name mocha comes from the Yemen city of Mocca, one of the centers of early coffee trade.
This coffee is for people with a sweet tooth that are in need of a caffeine buzz but don’t like the taste of coffee. It is a mixture of an espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate flavoring. As such, its taste is more akin to that delicious cup of hot chocolate milk you used to drink as a kid than actual coffee.
6. Le macchiato
All right, I always get this confused with le mocha, because they start with the letter “m”, but they couldn’t be any more different!
Le macchiato is basically an espresso coffee with a very tiny amount of milk in it.
Fun fact: the macchiato actually has the highest ratio of espresso to milk than any other coffee drink. The steamed milk just adds a bit of sweetness to the drink, which still largely retains the espresso taste that many Europeans love.
7. Le café au lait
This is espresso mixed with milk in a large cup. It’s as simple as that. As opposed to a café latte or a cappuccino, le café au lait does not need to have a foamy top. Some purists think that the best café au lait is made with the French press (aka la cafetière à piston).
8. Le café noisette
This is like the café au lait, but milk is added until the coffee takes hazelnut (noisette in French) color, hence the name. And no, it actually doesn’t have hazelnut in it. Another example of deceptive marketing :(.
9. Le café renversé or le renversé
People think that le renversé is just the Swiss’s weird way of saying café au lait. This is not true! Le renversé should have more milk than espresso, hence why it’s called reversed coffee. Le renversé is supposed to have a lighter shade than le café noisette.
10. Le café décaféiné or le déca (decaf)
This is the standard cup of coffee without caffeine in it. I also don’t know why anyone would like this.
11. Le café glacé (iced coffee)
More cafés in urban centers catering to a hip and young crowd are starting to offer iced coffee, sign of a burgeoning French coffee scene, but this isn’t the case across the rest of the country.
12. Le café liégeois
More of a cold desert than a type of coffee, le café liégeois consists of slightly sweetened coffee, coffee-flavored ice cream and Chantilly cream.
Some notes on ordering French coffee
1. Takeaway coffee culture is not the norm
The practice of takeaway coffee is rapidly spreading in France, especially in major cities like Paris, but nothing beats the charm of drinking coffee at a French café and sitting idle for a good quarter of an hour as the world passes by.
2. Try to drink your coffee at a café
Being in France helps you achieve one important fantasy: drinking coffee at a cobblestoned terrace, while reading a book on existentialist philosophy. Reading Le Monde is also another option.
3. Coffee with milk is best served for breakfast
Many of my French friends consider coffee with milk as a breakfast drink. Sometimes, they also dip a croissant in it — a practice that I’ve fully embraced to this very day. My friends also scowl at me when I order cappuccino in the afternoon, which is frowned upon by many Europeans, so keep that in mind.
Put your favorite French cafés on TWISPER
Hope you enjoyed this blog post on French coffee culture! Next time you’re in France, unless you already are, make sure to read this blog post again for a nice primer on what type of coffee you might want to order. Coffee in France, after all, is a great way to take a break and to unwind after a busy day of visiting tourist spots or amazing museums.
Do you have favorite French cafés, or do you want to create a list of cafés to visit when you’re in the country? Download the TWISPER app for free on iOS and Play Store and save those amazing French cafés.