Ok, so you’ve navigated the boulangerie, you have your croissants, pains au chocolat and baguette. Whew! Time to sit down and congratulate yourself and plan your day. And if you’re in France, that can surely be done on one of those inviting looking café terraces, over a coffee, right?
Sure but do you know how to order a coffee and get what you want in France? Specialty coffee shops aside, where you will most likely be able to get a very close approximation to the coffee you are used to at home, most cafés serve only a handful of the more basic coffee-based drinks (forget your half-caf, no foam, soy cappuccino…), so if you know the lingo, ordering is actually much easier than you think!
1. Un café is the standard and is an espresso. You won’t be served any milk with this. If you want your coffee REALLY strong, order un café serré (the equivalent of an Italian ristretto) which will result in an espresso made with half the amount of water so it’s really strong). If you really need a wakeup call, un double espresso (two shots of coffee) should do the trick.
2. Want a macchiato? Order une noisette (equivalent of a cortado in Spain) which is an espresso with a splash of hot milk.
3. Want more coffee than just an espresso? Order un café allongé which is the equivalent of a long black in Australia and the closest thing you will find to a filter coffee in most French cafés.
4. Want decaf? That’s un déca (short for décafeiné). So, a large black decaf coffee is un café allongé déca.
5. Un café au lait s’il vous plaît. Who HASN’T practised saying that in some French class? Sounds so delightful, right? Well here’s the thing. You’ll mostly want to ask for a café crème instead. Café au lait is a little touristy and while waitstaff will understand you, who doesn’t want to fit in a little on a trip to France? A “crème” as it’s known is a bowl of steamed, frothy milk to which a shot of espresso is added. It’s like a pretty weak latte so I often find myself ordering un petit crème et un café which results in the smallest milky coffee they serve along with an extra shot that I can add at my leisure. If you order “un (café) crème” you may end up with a giant bowl of milky “coffee” so I always make sure to ask for “un petit”. They’ll know you are not a local but it might result in a closer approximation of the drink you actually want!
6. No dairy? Your best bet is to head to one of the specialty coffee shops (or Starbucks if you really must) where you might be able to find soy or other non-dairy equivalents. Soy or other milk is not an option in your standard French café.
You’re all set now. Time for a little people watching. Or maybe you just want to read the paper. Whatever you fancy, you’ll have the drink you need!