If you’re a coffee lover, you’ve probably heard of caffè latte and café con leche (or café au lait). At first glance, the two may seem similar, but subtle differences set them apart.
This article explores these two popular coffee options in-depth, unraveling their ingredients, preparation, and distinguishing characteristics. Discover how a small change in proportion or brewing technique can completely transform your coffee experience.
What is Caffè latte?
Caffè latte is a popular coffee-based beverage that combines espresso (1/3), hot milk (2/3), and a layer of foam (1/4). Its name “latte” comes from Italian, meaning “milk”. This drink has a balanced proportion of coffee and milk, producing a smooth and creamy flavor.
Caffè latte has become a frequent choice in coffee shops and homes around the world, and its popularity has given rise to variations such as caffè latte macchiato (with more milk and less coffee than caffè latte) and iced caffè latte (served with ice). It is a perfect option for those wishing to enjoy a smooth, creamy, comforting coffee.
What is café con leche (café au lait)?
Café con leche is a beverage that combines coffee and milk in similar proportions, although it can vary slightly depending on individual preferences. This beverage is known by different names in different countries, such as “café con leche” in Spanish, “café au lait” in French, or “café com leite” in Portuguese.
This smooth and creamy beverage combines the robust flavor of coffee with the smoothness and sweetness of milk, which helps soften the flavor of the coffee, creating a smoother and more balanced experience compared to black coffee.
Like caffè latte, café con leche can also be customized by adding sugar, flavor syrups, or other additives according to individual preferences.
Differences between these types of café con leche (café au lait), without going too deep:
- The cappuccino is frothier which contains less milk than the latte.
- The flat white has a more intense coffee flavor than the previous two.
- The caffè latte is creamier since it does not contain as much foam or cream. Therefore, it has a greater presence of milk than a cappuccino and much more than a flat white.
Are caffè latte and café con leche (café au lait) the same coffee?
The caffè latte and café con leche are similar drinks in that they combine coffee and milk but differ in the proportion used and how they are prepared.
In caffè latte, the typical ratio is about 1/3 espresso and 2/3 steamed milk, with a thin layer of milk foam on top (1/4). This results in a smoother and creamier beverage, where milk plays a prominent role.
On the other hand, café con leche (café au lait) generally has an equal proportion of coffee and milk, that is, a 50% mixture. Café con leche (café au lait) can be made with filtered coffee, drip coffee, or even espresso, depending on your preferences. This beverage has a more balanced flavor between coffee and milk, without emphasizing one over the other.
Differences in preparation: caffè latte vs. café con leche (café au lait)
- An espresso is prepared using an espresso machine.
- The steamed milk is heated and texturized until a smooth and creamy texture is obtained.
- Pour the espresso into a cup and add the steamed hot milk in a ratio of approximately 1:3 (one part espresso to three parts milk).
- A thin layer of milk foam is added for decoration and extra texture.
Related: How to froth milk with a steam wand
Café con leche (café au lait):
- A cup of coffee is prepared using different methods, such as filtered coffee or an electric drip coffee maker.
- The milk is heated in a saucepan or the microwave until it is hot without boiling.
- The hot milk is poured into a cup in a proportion of approximately 1:2, half coffee and half milk.
- No milk foam is added on top, unlike latte coffee.
The caffè latte and café con leche (café au lait) are two popular coffee options that combine coffee and milk differently.
These differences in proportion and preparation result in distinctive flavors and textures. The caffè latte offers a smooth and creamy experience, where milk plays a prominent role. On the other hand, café con leche combines the robust flavor of coffee with the smoothness and sweetness of milk, creating a harmonious balance.
Both options allow customization with sugar. The choice between a caffe latte and café con leche will depend on the flavor profile and texture desired by each person.