“I thought ‘café au lait’ was Spanish.” “No, it’s French for coffee and milk. ‘Lait’ is milk.” . “Really? I thought it was “Café–olé! Like, ‘Coffee–all right!'”- Lorelai Gilmore
For the viewers of the American comedy-drama television series, Gilmore Girls; the above dialogue may seem familiar. Yet for ardent coffee lovers, there is no confusion in the mind.
Café au lait (French for “coffee with milk”) is simply coffee with hot milk added. Call it by any name, similar varieties are seen mainly across Europe, from the Spanish café con leche in Spain, Polish kawa biala and German Milchkaffee (“milk coffee”) to list a few. The reverse version holds true in the certain areas of Switzerland, where the popular variation is made by adding espresso to the milk base, known as the café renversé (“reverse coffee”).
Traditionally the brew is primarily of French origin, prepared at home from dark coffee (preferable French beans) and heated milk; while in the cafes, the espresso machine takes over.
Yet the ‘ café au lait’ isn’t the dame as “Café latte”. Originated in Italy, the latter is typically made using one or two shots of espresso, topped-up with steamed milk, and finished with a small layer of foam on top. On the contrary, café au lait has no foam added to it.
One popular variation of the café au lait served at coffee shops in New Orleans, is making it by using chicory which gives the beverage a distinctive, strong, and bitter flavor. Known as American café au lait, scalded milk is used rather than steamed milk and served usually with sweet powdered sugary beignets to offset the bitter flavour. The roots go back to the American Civil War days when coffee was in short supply and demand strong. Hence the trend of using chicory to pad out the available coffee had started and stayed on.
Either way, to start off the milky sweet mornings, ‘café au lait’ is there for all the coffee lovers, old or young.