In France, cafes don’t tout their syrup flavors, blended concoctions or even whipped cream — which is even questionably on a hot chocolate. Instead, they serve coffee, brewed as espresso.
Most French coffees are built around the café, which is essentially an espresso. Despite the coffee press being named for the French, most of the coffee enjoyed out of the house isn’t a French press but a café.
A café is ordered by simply asking for “un café.” A standard café is either served with two pieces of sugar on the side, or sugar is available behind the counter. Cream is also usually available, but it’s much less popular and typically not as thick as the half-and-half that’s set out on American coffee shop’s condiment bars.
Should you request “un café Américan,” you may get one of two drinks. Some cafes may interpret this as a café allongé, which is an Americano. It’s an espresso diluted with water. Other cafes may serve a café filtré, which is a filtered coffee that’s similar to brewed coffee in the States. The latter, especially, isn’t as widely enjoyed as espresso.
A “café au lait” is literally a “coffee with milk.” This is a fairly popular breakfast beverage, but it’s hardly ever ordered in the afternoon or evening.
When ordering a café, you’ll often pay less if you order at the cafe’s bar instead of a table that’s outside. When sitting down at a table, you’ll likely stay longer and, therefore, are frequently expected to pay a little more for the experience and service.
In France, drinking cafés is an any-time-of day, and often a multiple-times-per-day, activity. You may be invited to have a café, or two, in the morning, afternoon or evening. (Yes, they do have decaf.)
If you are asked to join a friend or colleague for a café, they may intend to have a quick espresso at the bar or to sit down at a table and linger. You’ll have to either ask or let your intuitions guide you.
As with many things in France, a café is often not complete unless it’s complemented by food. The French will often have a croissant or baguette with their cafés, and either can be dipped into a café. Cafés can also serve as the final course for a meal, often served after a desert of cheese.
Have you ever had coffee in France? We’d love to hear about your experience. Send us a message on Facebook and a photo of the cafe you went to.