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Jun 18, 2006 11:24 PM

Cafe Latte, Cafe au Lait, Cafe Nienta

  • r

A coffee discussion on the SF was vearing too much into a general coffee drink discussion.

Anyway, moaning about how much I hate those big bowls used for cafe au lait (and confusing it with cafe latte), I did some searching for the difference.

Café au Lait - let's just say drip coffee and warm milk. There's a lot of different definitions ... with two-thirds hot frothed milk ... 50/50 ... milk served warm and in a separate pitcher.

There's even a Cajun style cup of café au lait, using a dark roast that includes chicory. Someone from New Orleans learned to his dismay that it isn't made that way elsewhere in the country.

Caffè Latte - espresso combined with about three times as much hot milk topped with froth ... or so one definition says.

The link at the bottom has a decent explanation of quite a few coffee drinks and at least an explanation for those big bowls ... "This open-mouthed vessel is convenient for dunking brioche and croissants. It is also useful for warming one's hands while seated outdoors."

Well, at least that makes it less of what seemed a silly affectation to me. I still don't like it served that way because the coffee cools too soon, but its an explanation.

Searching the web turned up dozens of ways these drinks are defined though.

In the 'Italian Cooking for Dummies' it says that caffe latte in Italy isn't the same as the American version. It is just brewed coffee with steamed milk and not espresso ... which seems to me the same as the French au Lait.

Never knew there was a term for a wet cappucino - ESPRESSO LACHINO. Yeah, that will get me far. As it is, sometimes I have to explain what I mean by a wet cappucino and why I don't want it.

This was a cute little link that had some terms I had not heard before ...

NIENTA (Why Bother)- Decaffeinated cappuccino with nonfat milk. Cute. I'll use that next time I want that drink at Starbucks and they are trying to get me to use those silly terms like vente for coffee size.

There's also a 'harmless', 'cake in a cup', 'latteccino'. and 'no fun' . Put that 'on a leash'.

A 'speed ball' (coffee with a shot of espresso) is also a Shot in the Dark, Red Eye, Bellman, Boilerhouse, Depth Charge, and Cafe M.F.

This site has the coffee term glossary used almost everywhere on the web.

I'm always surprised when traveling when a different term gets me a different result. I learned immediately in Europe to preceed the word 'latte' with 'cafe' or I would get warm milk.

Back on the East Coast the first time I ordered a regular coffee - meaning regular-sized black, not small or large - I got cream and sugar in it. To me yuck.

And it's so hard to think before that first cup of coffee.


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  1. The problem, of course, is that each country has its own particular coffee terms. I can't get a cafè tallat for love or money here -- it's known as a cortado in much of Spain, but here in LA the closest equivalent is a cortadito from a Cuban bakery (which is stronger) or a macchiato, which isn't at all the same thing.

    1. They (the people in countries where these kinds of coffee are the regular fare) are also rather opinionated, or were the last time I was in Europe, about what coffee you should drink when. Au lait or con leche (the Spanish version) are for breakfast, hence the big cup for dipping your morning bread -- very practical, and not an affectation, although maybe it is here, where you can order one at other times of the day. Though not in a Mexican grocery, which I tried once, in Chicago, about noon, and the guy looked at me like I was an ignorant person, wanting coffee with milk at noon. And he did not give it to me, either. (This was pre-Starbucks, and had I been able to get the con leche, it would have been much cheaper than Starbucks.)

      My favorite was (haven't been there in ages) cafe cortado in Spain, espresso with just a bit of milk, still more a coffee drink than a milk drink.

      Most of the concoctions they sell at Starbucks et al bear about as much resemblance to coffee as blueberry or sun-dried tomato bagels do to real bagels. You can eat them, maybe they are even good (not the blueberry ones), but must you call them bagels?

      5 Replies
      1. re: Anne H

        In Madrid, the morning cafe con leche usually comes in a tall little bar glass called a caña, so that you can dip your churro or porra in a good four of five inches. It's a shot of espresso with milk added. Depending on how much of a hurry you are in, you alway have the option of getting the milk hot, cold or "templada" (a mixture of the two). If you order a cafe con leche at a different time (not unheard of, really a matter of personal taste), you will often get it in a small cup.

        When I lived in France, the breakfast was always the leftover bread from the night before dipped in the big "bol".

        What I find really disgusting are the obscene quantities of "espresso" served at places like Panera. I once went there and ordered an espresso and they brought out the big "bol" filled halfway with sludge. Anyone who drinks this is sure to take years of their lives. Whatever happened to moderation?

        1. re: butterfly

          What is the difference between a churro and a porra? I didn't find out much about porras in Goggle other than you have to be careful the way you pronouce it otherwise it means something like 'go to hell'.

          So is it any kind of bread that is dunked in cafe au lait? What is the etiquette for this? Dip an end of the whole slice in the cafe au lait and bite off? Tear a piece off and dip with fingers. Tear, spear with fork and dip.

          I know it isn't the last but I've been thinking about using bread to sop up the sauce in a dish. I'm having a discussion with a friend about whether the correct etiquette is just to tear a piece off and sop up sauce or tear a piece spear it with fork and use the bread on a fork to sop up the suace.

          For me, dunking bread or croissants in coffee doesn't sound good, but I was never much of a donut dunker either. The only time that is worthwhile is with stale donuts, which is probably how all this dunking got started. At least it seems the origins of donut dunking started with similar European customs.

          1. re: rworange

            A porra is a big fat churro. Churros in Spain are skinny, crunchy, not at all sweet and made for dipping in coffee or chocolate. I'll have to take a picture and post, so you get a visual. People here also have their coffee with toasted bread and olive oil in the morning.

            A porro is a joint--nearly everyone asks for churras y porros at some point in their life and gets snickered at.

            And I forgot to mention the most fervent bread dunkers--Cubans. Cuban toast with cafe con leche is THE morning staple. In my SO's family, the take a loaf of cuban bread, and cut it lengthwise, slather it with massive quantities of butter and then toast it a bit and then slather on even more butter and toast it again. The end result is that you have really, really crispy bread entirely impregnated with butter. Then you break the pieces of bread in half and dunk them in your cafe con leche. I may have to post some photos of this, as well.

            With the French, it's all retreating far into that part of my memory that is hard to reach, but I think it was just a matter of cutting little bits off and dipping. Nothing too sophisticated. Breakfast is pretty much non-existent in both France and Spain. It's just a brief way to get a bit of caffeine and carbohydrates in your system to keep you going long enough to have a big long lunch.

            1. re: butterfly

              >>Breakfast is pretty much non-existent in both France and Spain.<<

              I must be French-Spanish at heart, if not by heritage. Coffee and milk in the a.m., yay!; food in the a.m., nay. Unless it's a champagne brunch.

              1. re: butterfly

                When I lived in France, we definitely dipped baguette and/or brioche in the cafe au lait, but not the croissants. The croissants would have fallen apart. The baguette, by the way, was not sliced; hunks were torn off the loaf. MMmmmmmm.

        2. r
          Robert Lauriston

          That link is pretty good, but there are a couple of things missing:

          - In Italy, a "latte macchiato" is a glass of steamed milk with a shot of expresso. ("Macchiato" = stained, "espresso macchiato" is coffee stained with milk, "latte macchiato" is milk stained with coffee.)

          - In Italy, the default espresso pull varies regionally. In Rome, if you don't want a ristretto, you have to order a lungo. In Milan, it's the reverse.

          Also, I don't believe espresso breve, romano, or cubano are Italian terms.

          1. I too was astounded when, after moving to NYC, I requested a regular coffee in a diner and got coffee with milk. The discussion that ensued was worthy of Saturday Night Live. Later when I traveled to Amsterdam and was served coffee with milk I realized that this was probably the origin of the NYC custom. But who knows?

            4 Replies
            1. re: mnosyne

              I think a request for "regular" gets you milk well beyond NYC. As I recall from college in RI, I'm pretty sure regular there meant with milk (cream). Anyone currently from the area who can enlighten us as to how far this usage spreads?

              1. re: Anne H

                It's pretty easy -- "regular" meaning with milk (and often sugar) is generally the same location as the non-rhotic accent (meaning, where they drop the "r" in "butter") -- New York, much of New Jersey, and the coast of New England.

                Of course, there's always the strange looks you get from "outsiders" when you go into place and order coffee "light and sweet", or that you have to order what you want in your coffee and can't just put it in yourself.

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  Yup. Cawfee regalah means with milk and 1-2 sugars, depending on the size of the coffee. Light n sweet means, would you like some coffee with your milk and sugar?

                  1. re: Covert Ops

                    I'm with you, since I usually drink cortados, which is a shot of espresso with a few drops of milk foam to lighten it.

            2. Regarding having to say "venti," has Starbucks trademarked those names for coffee sizes? Because I was in a mom-and-pop coffee bar in Florida and almost fell over laughing when they tried to use slightly variant names for their sizes. . . and they called the large "largo." (Meaning "slow and broad" in Italian, or at least in music.)

              1 Reply
              1. re: Covert Ops

                Largo in spanish means "Long" so I can see where they were going with it.