Café au Lait is a coffee drink that originated in France, and, as opposed to standard white coffees which is coffee with cold milk added, a café au lait is coffee that has been mixed with steaming hot milk. Just like with many other traditional foods and beverages, café au lait has been adopted by countries all over the world, each putting their own unique spin on this much-loved drink.
In the Netherlands, café au lait is known as koffie verkeerd, which, in English, means wrong coffee. The Netherlands is one of the nations in the world that drinks the most coffee, with koffie verkeerd being one of the most popular varieties. Consisting of half warm milk and half automatic dripped coffee, koffie verkeerd acquired its unique name because of how it differs from traditional coffees in the Netherlands, most of which only contain a small drop of milk.
Milchkaffee is the German version of café au lait, and is served up all over the country. This variety features a cup of strong filtered coffee that has been mixed with hot milk, and then topped with milk froth and a sprinkling of chocolate powder.
Thanks to Café du Monde, café au lait has become extremely popular in the United States, especially in New Orleans. Here, the coffee and milk is mixed with roasted chicory roots, giving it a stronger and more bitter taste, perfectly offsetting the sugary sweet beignets that the coffees are often served with. Another way in which the American café au lait differs from the traditional French version is with the milk used; rather than steaming it like the French, the Americans use scalded milk that has been heated to just below boiling point.
Milk is one of Switzerland’s native treasures, so it only makes sense that the milk takes center stage in the Swiss version of café au lait. Known locally as café renversé, which means reverse coffee in English, the secret behind this Swiss recipe is the way in which they have swapped around the proportions of milk and coffee. Milk serves as the base of this drink, usually forming around 60% of it, after which it is topped up with freshly brewed espresso.
The closest version of café au lait in Spain is called café con leche, which is Spanish for coffee with milk. This is a staple drink all over the country, and is especially popular in the mornings as accompaniment to breakfast. The recipe is similar to that of the American style café au lait, featuring coffee made from a French press or a drip mixed with scalded, but not steamed, milk. Rather than using espresso, café con leche makes use of regular brewed coffee.
Coffee is an ancient tradition all over the world, with each country putting their own unique spin on the beverage. From the bitter taste of chicory to a version featuring more milk than coffee, each of these regional spins on the classic café au lait are definitely worth a try.