Ordering Coffee in Paris
It can be a struggle to decipher the coffee menu before you’ve actually had your coffee. We get it. Want to understand just what exactly you are ordering at your neighborhood café? Or fancy specialty coffee shop?
What You’ll Find at Every Corner Café:
Many places won’t even bring you a coffee menu because there is so little variation among these options:
- Café/Café Noir/Espresso/Express: A shot of espresso, often very dark and bitter
- Café Allongé: Espresso diluted with water
- Double/Double express: A double shot of espresso
- Filtré: Filtered coffee, also known as café américain. It will not be refilled, except if you go to Sugarplum Cake Shop.
- Noisette: An espresso with a spot of cream. It derives its name from the French word for hazelnut because of its color.
- Café crème/Cappuccino/Café Latte: Milky coffee, plain and simple. Your average café will rarely differentiate between any of the terms. These drinks will be espresso-based with a large proportion of milk, and the milk at your average place will be sterilized, shelf-stable, and slightly chalky. The price will be more expensive than an espresso. Cappuccinos typically cost slightly more than a café crème, will taste generally the same, and often come with cocoa powder or whipped cream on top. We’ve never seen a Parisian order one. It’s popular among visitors, and priced accordingly.
- Café Décaféiné or Un Déca: Decaffeinated espresso.
- Sur place: To be consumed on-site
- À Emporter: To go. Coffee to go is most likely not available at your average corner café. If you’re in a rush, you can shoot your espresso at the bar. Cafés are meant to be social spaces where one lingers. Most specialty coffee shops, however, will have to go cups available.
What You’ll Find at a Specialty Coffee Shop:
In addition to the options above, you might also find a few of these options:
- Flat White: An Aussie import. Similar to a cappuccino but with a thinner, more velvety foam that is incorporated into the drink instead of floating on top. Made with flat, non-aerated milk.
- Cortado: Espresso cut with a small amount of milk that has been added after the espresso.
- V60: A manual pour-over coffee dripper used to make filtered coffee.
- Chemex: A glass coffee dripper with a conical neck also used to make pour-over filtered coffee.
- Café Glacé: Iced coffee. Hard to come by.
- Extraction à Froid: Cold-brewed. Naturally sweeter and higher in caffeine. Not necessarily served iced.
Some Helpful Hints:
- Milky coffee is generally served at breakfast along with your meal. Otherwise, café (meaning espresso) is usually served after dessert as the finishing touch to your meal.
- Technically, café au lait is filtered coffee with milk, served in a large bowl at breakfast but almost exclusively in a home environment. Most cafés will understand what you mean however, and most people will simply swap in a café crème. Poilâne will serve you a giant bowl of café au lait if you sit down in their restaurant and order their whole déjeuner special.
- It’s not common to ask for half-caff, full-fat vs. low-fat milk, wet vs. dry coffee. Expect blank stares.
- Sugar is sucre and it’s often served in cubes. French coffee tends to be quite bitter so you may find you use more than you would normally. Sugar substitutes (Stevia, etc.) are rare.
- Iced coffee is hard to come by. You want to ask for café glacé. Most places will just pour coffee over ice, but we’ve seen some seriously mangled beverages involving coffee flavored syrup. Unless it’s actually on the menu (like at L’Arbre à Café, Coutume or Loustic) or you’re at Starbucks, it’s best to avoid.
- Milk: There is usually one kind of milk, and it comes from a box. It’s chalky, shelf stable and flavorless. Specialty shops like Coutume will use fresh milk. If you’re looking for milk at the grocery store, you should know that half & half as a concept does not exist. There is red top milk (whole), blue top milk (partially skimmed, 2%), and there is whole liquid cream.
- Specialty Milks: It’s quite rare to see soy milk, but it can be found at Starbucks and we’ve spotted it at Loustic and Tuck Shop (now closed) as well. Ask for soja (pronounce the j). Nutmilks? Good luck.
- Can you get milk on the side? You’re welcome to ask for un petit pichet à lait, but don’t be surprised if they look at you quizzically or are not able to accommodate your request. It’s not the culture, and most places don’t have the storage space for tiny pitchers.