How to get the coffee you want

People in caféThere’s your café terrace in the sun, just inviting you to sit down. But how do you order the coffee you want?

Now that every English high street sports a coffee bar or two, we’re used to ordering a latte or a “Large Capp”. Starbucks hasn’t exactly made inroads into rural France. If you order a skinny latte in the Dordogne you’ll get more than a bewildered look. Here’s a guide to the local terminology.

“Un café” means a small black coffee – often described as “un petit café” or “un express”. As that suggests, it’s the equivalent of an expresso, although not with the kick you’ll get from its Italian cousins. If you want something stronger, you should ask for “un serré”, which is the equivalent of the Italian “ristretto” – a small black coffee of double strength.

“Un grand café” or “un double express” means a large black coffee, or a double expresso.

“Un crême” or even “un petit crême” means a small white coffee, that will come in an expresso-sized cup.

Conversely, “un grand crême” means a large white coffee. Both “un crême” and “un grand crême” are used in preference to “un café au lait”. However, if you are staying in a hotel, where coffee is served in a jug at your breakfast table, it is correct to ask for “café au lait chaud”.

“Un café noisette” means a black coffee with just a drop of milk in it – the equivalent of the Italian “macchiato” or the Portuguese “pingado”.

“Un cappuccino” will not necessarily deliver the frothy concoction you’re used to. It may produce a black coffee with a large dollop of whipped cream in. This is, technically, a “café viennois”. If you want your froth, you should specify “un cappuccino avec de la mousse au lait”. It’s not yet so popular as in the UK.

“Un café américain” means a very weak black coffee. It is despised by the local French.

If you want to follow French convention, you should not drink white coffee after eleven in the morning – and particularly not after mealtimes. A small black coffee is drunk after lunch. The French consider that white coffee after a meal is particularly bad for your digestion, and you may get a scandalised look from waiters. After dinner, many French will not touch coffee, to the point where it may not even be offered to you if you are dining out.

If you want a cinnamon-flavoured skinny latte with a double shot – sorry, you’ll have to wait until you get back to Starbucks in the UK!

Antony Mair

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