There is nothing I love more than sitting in a coffee shop while enjoying the smell of fresh ground espresso and the nutty flavor of a latte. Coffeehouses are so comforting to me, and for that reason, cafe culture inspires me and intrigues me to learn how coffee is enjoyed all over the world. Turns out, cafe culture in France is very different from what we know in the United States. Here’s some more information on cafe culture in France and how to order coffee in France.

Unfortunately, coffee in Paris is not known for its quality. Some may even call it weak, bitter, or burnt. However, on the other hand, France has a well-known and noteworthy cafe culture that is worth understanding before traveling there.

The main drinks served at French cafés include:

  • un café or un espresso: an espresso
  • café crème: espresso with steamed milk topped with foam
  • café au lait: half coffee and half steamed milk, topped with foam
  • café noisette: espresso with a hazelnut-sized dash of hot milk
  • café allongé: watered down espresso; allongé literally means “elongated”

Although the French typically drink café au lait at home, from what I understand, it’s not a popular order when out in the French cafés. When at a café, most people will order un café/un espresso or a café crème. It’s also important to note that milky drinks aren’t typically served after 10-11 am. After that time, it’s espresso all the way.

How to order coffee in France: If you want this, order that

At home in the US, Americans who prefer their coffee sweet typically go for a flavored latte, and those who prefer a strong coffee flavor opt for drip/filtered coffee, Americanos, iced coffee, or cold brew. These aren’t common options in France, especially iced coffee drinks. It’s more of an American thing to drink coffee cold. If you’re traveling and want something similar to drip coffee, then order a café allongé. This is watered down espresso comparable to an Americano in the States.

  • If you want an espresso, order un café or un espresso.
  • If you want a double espresso, order un double espresso.
  • If you want a latte, order un café crème.
  • If you want a flavored latte, order un café crème and add a sugar packet to it.
  • If you want a macchiato, order un café noisette.
  • If you want a hot black drip coffee, order un café allongé.
  • If you want a cold brew or iced coffee, there may be an option for this on the menu (extraction à froid for cold brew, or un café glacé for iced coffee). If there’s not and you only drink iced coffee, you could order un café, un espresso, or un double espresso with a side cup of ice if it is available (they do not commonly serve ice in drinks in France).

Coffee etiquette in France

You can enjoy your coffee with a side of une tartine, a thinly sliced baguette with jam and butter, or un croissant or other pastries. You’ll either throw back your espresso at the counter, or stay to eat at a table inside or on the terrace. Eating at a table or on the terrace are more expensive options. It is not custom to walk and eat in France.

While sitting on the terrace, you can engage in the popular past-time of people-watching. If you don’t plan to eat, choose a table that isn’t set with silverware. Keep in mind, the waiter may not have the same customer service we are accustomed to in the US, and there may be customers smoking nearby.

Some noteworthy cafés include Cafe de Flore, Café de la Paix, and Les Deux Magots. Now take some of your new knowledge on how to order coffee in France and experience these historic cafés!

More detailed terminology on how to order coffee in France

  • Un café / Espresso — A shot of espresso
  • Petit café / Café simple / Café noir / Petit noir / Café express / Express — Other terms for a shot of espresso
  • Un double espresso — Double shot of espresso
  • Café serré — Strong espresso
  • Café crème — Espresso and steamed milk and topped with foam
  • Café noisette — Espresso with a dash of hot milk. Most similar to a Macchiato in Italy or a Cortado in Spain.
  • Cappuccino / Café latté — Espresso with steamed milk
  • Café allongé — Espresso diluted with hot water, similar to an Americano.
  • Café léger — Espresso with double the amount of water
  • Café au lait — Half coffee and half steamed milk, topped with foam
  • Café filtré / Filtré / Café américain — Filtered coffee
  • Café glacé — Iced coffee
  • Extraction à froid — Cold brew
  • Café décaféiné / Un déca — Decaffeinated espresso
  • Chocolat chaud — Hot chocolate
  • Du lait — Milk
  • Sucre — Sugar
  • Édulcorant — Sweetener
  • Sur place — For here
  • À emporter — To go

Read more about France here:

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