Café Au Lait: Tracing The Roots Of This Classic French Beverage
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Despite being a beverage that has been enjoyed for centuries, Café au Lait has only lately gained popularity on coffee house menus. If your favourite coffee shop has started serving this strange-sounding coffee, you're probably thinking, "What is a café au lait?"

Coffee with milk is known as café au lait in French, as you may already be aware. Steamed milk and drip coffee are typically combined to make it. This is what distinguishes a café au lait from a "white" or "light and sweet" coffee, which is made with drip coffee and cold milk, and a café latte, which is composed of espresso and steamed milk.

What Is Cafe Au Lait?

The ingredients for the café au lait are steamed milk and brewed coffee. The usual proportion is one part coffee to one part steamed milk; however, certain coffee shops may add foam or froth on top. Steaming the milk is a requirement for making the coffee foundation, which is typically produced with a drip or French press. White coffee, which is made with coffee and either cold milk or powdered whitener added, is not the same as café au lait.

The French term "café au lait" translates to "coffee with milk." "Au lait" translates to "to prepare with milk." It's commonly made with half warm milk and half coffee, which makes it the ideal coffee to enjoy leisurely.

The History Of Cafe Au Lait

The origins of au café lait may be found in European cafés of the eighteenth century, notably in Paris, France. From the Middle East, where the practice of boiling coffee beans had already gained traction, coffee made its way to Europe. But it was the French who gave this simple drink a sophisticated twist by adding the opulent ingredient of milk.

After coffee was introduced, Parisians fell in love with its flavour, and beginning in the 1670s, coffee shops began to appear across the city. They had a developed dairy sector at this time, producing anything from heavy creams to opulent cheeses, and they also cherished the flavour of dairy products.

The French café au lait gained popularity and eventually made its way outside of Europe. French colonists brought their love of the drink with them to many regions of the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, including North Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia.

Local culinary influences were absorbed by café au lait in many areas, creating distinctive varieties of the beverage. For example, café au lait was originally served in tiny cups and made with spiced coffee in North Africa. Beignets, a delicious combination of flavours, are typically served alongside café au lait, which has become an essential element of the culinary character of New Orleans, a city heavily influenced by French culture.

Cafe Au Lait Today

A significant portion of European coffee history involves café au lait. It has been around for hundreds of years and doesn't appear to be going away, despite the dozens of versions that exist worldwide.

Due to its two basic ingredients, there is a great deal of room for experimentation and adaptation as consumers taste the coffee shift. For instance, plant-based milk used to make café au lait may become increasingly popular at speciality coffee shops in the coming years.

One thing is clear, though, whether it changes or not: this creamy, sweet beverage is a favourite among many and a fantastic starting point for customisations. Thus, it could be worthwhile to ask about the barista's method for making a café au lait the next time you're in a coffee shop. You never know; it can take you by surprise.