Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > France >
Jan 1, 2012 04:51 PM

one of the little things that makes life worth the hassle

I particularly enjoy floating about an 1/8th of an inch of heavy cream on top of a cup of really good coffee - I have enough of a problem getting this across to servers who only know from 1/2&1/2 (probably haven't ever tasted a real tomatoe either!!!!) - but I have been flumoxed lately trying to figure out how to ask for heavy cream in French - any suggestions that will keep me out of the lost in translation jungle (I once ordered two pain au chocolate in Quebec and got two cups of cocoa)

many thanks for all the help you hounds have been so far in planning the trip


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The term would be creme liquide, but boy, I don't think I've ever seen it on offer in a Paris cafe.

    There's cafe au lait -- coffee with steamed milk (usually 2%, called demi-ecreme)
    A cafe creme -- roughly the same

    Most milk in Paris cafes comes from a UHT (ultra high temperature) box or bottle.

    1. If you want it with whipped cream, it is possible in some places and will usually involve sugar. Otherwise, whole milk is the rule, including in those "crème" cafés. A handful of Italian places with offer "con panna" options and it will be whipped cream too, though not necessarily sweetened. Most cafés don't even have heavy cream, which is not that easy to find in France where "crème fraiche" is the norm.

      Anyway, fancy places with a kitchen can do what you ask for (I had one whip cream for my coffee once), andI I'll happily give you the French for it, but then you need to be more specific about what you like -- is it whipped cream? Is it liquid heavy cream? Thick heavy cream? One spoon worth?

      1 Reply
      1. re: souphie

        Most cream used in restaurant kitchens is now crème liquide, i.e. heavy cream or whipping cream. Crème fraîche is disappearing from those kitchens and I've only seen it used at places like Spring, and it was naturally fermented Norman cream.

        That applies to most cafés and brasseries which may have a carton of crème liquide somewhere, but using it for coffee just isn't done, except in places where you can have whipped cream on top of your coffee or chocolate (in that case it's café viennois or chocolat viennois). So it's either whipped cream on top or milk inside, generally UHT as Souphie points out.

        I think the OP is referring to plain heavy cream, otherwise he would have said "whipped cream". I understand, since I add cream to my tea. But I do that at home, I'd never dream of getting it in the outside world.

      2. An English colleague, despite having lived in Paris for 20 years, remains resolutely English and insists on having after-dinner coffee with a layer of cream floating on top .... she gets it by asking for "un café avec de la crème à fouetter" ... whipping cream.... but make sure you emphasize the word "à" which is the only indication that you're not asking for cream that has already been whipped/ crème fouettée.... and careful, the waiter might misunderstand your pronunciation and think that you are ordering "crème fleurette" which is some sort of emulsified milk product sorta like a runny crème fraîche.... so be sure to pronounce "à fouetter" clearly and precisely or perhaps even write it down for the waiter.

        i doubt if you will be able to find a cream richer than whipping cream. Heavy/ double cream is is variously described as "crème épaisse" (slightly acidulated and not suitable for coffee) or "crème entière" (mostly used for ice cream) or "crème pas allégée". You can try asking for it but be prepared for some confusion.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Parnassien

          creme fleurette is also used as whipping cream -- I just whipped a LOT of it for New Year's Eve desserts. I agree that it's a little gloppy to use in coffee (it's heavy and dense, and sinks to the bottom of everything).

          It does have emulsifiers in it - I usually don't buy it, but by the time I got to the store (the second store, no less) it was all that was left. (apparently I wasn't the only one making rich desserts!)

          1. re: sunshine842

            Sunshine - the art is to pour the cream slowly over the back of a teasspoon to grt it to float on the coffee. It is a real technique from the 70's and was usually used with liqueur coffee for "sophisticated" dinner parties. How it work with all these adulterated creams with emulsifiers and thickeners i don't know. At least in France you can still buy reasonably pure cream, in Australia nearly all the double cream has starch or other thickeners in it and I spend a lot of time reading the fine print of labels to find cream that only contains cream.

          2. re: Parnassien

            As I am pretty sure the waiter would not misunderstand my pronunciation, here is what I'd say (and that may be used by anyone desiring cream in their coffee):

            "Pourrais-je avoir un peu de crème liquide avec ceci, s'il vous plaît ?"

            Might do the job, but results are not guaranteed.

            1. re: Parnassien

              OK here's an attempt at some terminology:

              - Crème fleurette and crème liquide are more or less the same consistency, i.e. pourable and whippable. There is no such thing as "crème à fouetter" but since the words composing the expression are grammaticaly correct, the waiter understands what your friend means and thus brings her crème fleurette/crème liquide. These are, anyway, the two terms used for pourable cream. Some of it is Ultra-High-Temperature treated or pasteurized, some is not, some is bio, etc. It is just a bit of a mess figuring out which is which. Sometimes you'll come across non-heat-stabilized whipping cream, either sold as "fleurette" or "liquide", but it will thicken after a few days, the way of normal cream.
              In Alsace and Lorraine, you will come across "crème alsacienne" which is unpasteurized crème fleurette and very delicious.

              - Half-and-half does not exist in France (just in case anyone was wondering).

              - Crème épaisse is actually sold as "crème fraîche épaisse". It is cream that has been thickened with the use of lactic ferments (but it is not sour cream, which you won't find in France). It may have the same amount of fat as crème liquide or fleurette, but it has a different consistency. Crème fraîche nowadays is always cultured cream (thus acidulated), though in the old days (and still now in the form of raw Norman cream) it was left to ferment and thicken on its own. "Crème pas allégée" does not exist, textually speaking.
              "Crème entière" may be pourable (crème liquide entière) or not pourable (crème fraîche entière or crème entière épaisse) so it belongs to both categories. Also "crème fleurette" is not a runny crème fraîche, it is unfermented pourable cream. Once it ferments, it thickens and then it becomes crème fraîche.

              Heavy and double cream are not exactly the same thing, double cream is thicker if I'm not mistaken. When we get to the French language about those it's even more or a mess, for crème double is not exactly double cream - and depending on the place where you find it, it may be more or less fermented, but the only thing you can be sure of is that it will be thick and very fatty. Usually crème double will be rather acidic in Normandy and Brittany because of the special quality of the milk and lactic ferments there, and much milder in places like Lyonnais, Bresse, Jura, Auvergne, etc.

              The aspect, tastes and denomination of creams in France are, as I said, a real mess, and the diversity of bovine breeds and climates is not helping. Thus It is very difficult to establish a typology of French creams. I have tried to sort it out slightly for now but I know I haven't even begun to cover the subject properly.

              As long as you can order crème liquide or crème fleurette with your coffee, I suppose that isn't too much of a problem.

              1. re: Ptipois

                i think descriptions rather than terminology work better in this small matter of an eighth-inch of cream floating on top of your coffee .... the very descriptive "crème à fouetter" simply indicates that you want a cream with a high fat content.... crème liquide would seem to cover all ranges of fat content and you may get the equivalent of single cream or; if the waiter is a wee bit thick, even a traditional café crème at some cafés/ restaurants .... crème fleurette (at least the type most commonly available in Paris) tends to react badly with heat (maybe because of the emulsifiers but I dunno really) and can break down in hot coffee... and, to me, the taste is somewhat closer to crème fraîche than unfermented/ sweet cream

                as a native French speaker it would take me a few sentences to tell the waiter exactly what I wanted in this case.... but my English colleague has learned how to successfully do it in one phrase featuring crème à fouetter.

                1. re: Parnassien

                  Yes, that's what I wrote above. The term "crème à fouetter" does not exist, but it is understandable so it works in your friend's case. "Crème liquide" would do the job at least as well. But of course if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
                  Crème fleurette is generally unfermented and unhomogenized, so indeed it often breaks down in coffee or tea, but in some places it is identical to stabilized crème liquide so as I wrote the terminology for creams is not very reliable. At least you can be sure that you'll get stabilized crème liquide in a café or restaurant, it's the stuff they pour over Irish coffee, so they know what to use.

                  Also, while serving cream with coffee or tea is generally no longer done, I have been at restaurants (i.e. L'Arnsbourg) where you do get coffee with plenty of crème alsacienne (= fleurette) in it when you order a "café crème". The name comes from the fact that cream used to be poured into coffee instead of milk. I do that at home because cream in tea or coffee agrees with me better than milk does. But long ago, "café crème" was simply coffee with cream while "café au lait" was, duh, coffee with milk.

                  1. re: Ptipois

                    Thanks all for the suggestions - since Theresa is a retired (relatively speaking) teacher of french/math I'm sure that my pronunciation will be spot on by the time we leave for paris ("rhymes with can" "rhymes with can!!!!!!!!" "more pucker!!!!!!!" etc)


                    1. re: Ptipois

                      Maybe I'm mistaken but I actually seem to remember when I was a child you could get little packets of "crème" specifically for coffee. I remember the inside of the packet to be quite creamy, and I thought it was disgusting (but then again I didn't even like coffee at that time...) today those packets still exist but they contain a few drops of milk instead.

                      Anyway, you're description of all the different creams is interesting, I always wondered what the difference was between crème liquide and crème fleurette. I'm not sure I really get it now, but at least I know I'm not the only one.

                      1. re: Ptipois

                        If you mean that "crème à fouetter" does not exist as an official designation for a specific category of dairy product in French/European consumer law, you are correct, but then the term "crème fleurette" doesn't exist, either. If you mean that you can easily find the term "fleurette" on French commercial packaging, but not "crème à fouetter", you are correct, but the fat content can be anything from 35% down to 5% (at which point they are not allowed to call it "crème", but they can still put "fleurette" on the package).

                        If you mean "exists/doesn't exist" in the sense that French people widely use/recognize the term "crème fleurette", while they do not widely use/recognize the term "crème à fouetter" for referring to pourable, full-fat cream, I don't believe that would be true. If anything, I think it's the other way around. But as practical advice, I would say that mdwardmalp should be prepared to explain his coffee order in several different ways, as many as it takes for the quizzical look to disappear from the server's face.

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            *stuffs Doliprane down the keyboard*

                2. It seems rather difficult getting something out of the ordinary when one is not an expert in the language. I am reminded of a time some years back when I was in Russia and tried to get an after-dinner coffee without sugar. The language wasn't difficult, and I had it down pat, but the waiter just couldn't believe I wanted it that way, I suppose. I wasn't able to explain, not knowing the language generally.

                  When in Rome (Paris), do as the Romans (Parisians) do.

                  In Rome, I would have no problem, as what I want is what they drink: caffè corretto.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: GH1618

                    Excellent advice. The mods should include your post in the "read this first" post that no one reads.

                    1. re: GH1618

                      I ordered an iced tea in Canada once, and it was sweet tea! Yuck! The server had no idea that people drank tea without sugar. I knew that it was a southern thing, but I was surprised it was like that up north, too.