French Beverages, Part 3: Coffee

In my younger days I was generally known as one of the only three cops in America that didn’t drink coffee.  That didn’t change in my  academic career.  It took visiting Italy and France and their excellent espresso to convert me into a dedicated coffee drinker.

For breakfast in Carcassonne Tracy and I enjoy Café Crème (Ca-fay Khrem), like an Italian cappuccino, a large steaming cup of espresso with steamed milk and a topping of foamed milk.  Unlike Italian cappuccino or cafe latte there is no artistic patterns on top, just rich creamy coffee with a dollop of foam.  In France the norm is not having a big breakfasts so Café Crème is often a meal unto itself or maybe with a croissant or a pain au chocolat (a flakey chocolate-filled viennoiserie pastry that is a favorite here in Southwest France.)

Café crème
Café crème

After 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning there is Café (Ca-fay) to enjoy (although many will enjoy Café for breakfast.)  Café (also called Café Noir or Café Express) is drawn from an espresso machine just like an Italian espresso and rich with dark reddish-brown foam called “crema,” and served in a demitasse cup or small glass.  In France and Italy milky coffee drinks like Café Crème are only consumed in the early morning, Café can be enjoyed all day long.


Coffee in France is always served with sugar (sucre (Coo-khruh), real sugar, either granulated or sugar cubes.  (Although a person could also request artificial sweetener, edulcorant  [Ay-doohl-co-hrahn].)  There is frequently a small ginger cookie or small chocolate to accompany  your coffee in our part of France.

There are many cultural expectations to having coffee in France.  Like I previously said, Café Crème, is not ordered after breakfast time.  There are seldom paper “go cups” available, coffee is meant to be savored slowly, not to be drunk on the run.  Coffee is not served during a meal (there is wine for that); coffee is reserved for after the meal is finished as a capstone to the event.  If you enter a restaurant only for coffee, either sit at a table without place settings or stand at the counter.  Drinking coffee while standing normally cost less than coffee while sitting at a table.

While our coffee drinking normally includes just Café Crème and Café there are some other coffee choices.

Noisette  (Nwah-zett) is an Café with a dash a cream.  Noisette is French for “hazelnut” and refers to the color of the coffee.  A noisette is similar to a small Italian Macchiato coffee.

Café au Lait (Ca-fay a lay), coffee with cream.  Depending who you talk to, this either this is an acceptable synonym for Café Crème or is a phrase only used in a restaurant by tourists.  I’ve also been told Café au Lait is a term only used by a French person in their own kitchen.

Café Allongé (ah-lohn-zhay), “extended coffee,” is espresso with additional hot water to make a more traditional American-style cup of coffee.

There is an option to order your Café as déca (Day-kah) or décaféiné (Day-kah-fay-uhn-ay) for a decaffeinated coffee.  This is something Tracy strongly believes cancels a major reason for coffee in the first place and is perhaps is even a venial sin.

And for non-coffee drinkers there is Chocolat chaud (Shah-ko-lah show),  hot chocolate that is normally made with rich, top-quality chocolate and is often served in demitasse cup.

France is definitely a “coffee culture” where few activities are as relaxing as sitting in the town square, sipping your café, and watching the world go by.  “Un autre café, s’il vous plaît.”  Another coffee, please.

2 thoughts on “French Beverages, Part 3: Coffee

  1. I quite caffeine cold turkey forever 15 years ago. Miserable experience. But, I do miss it! Though not enough to have it ever again :). I really liked this post. My taste glands were salivating at the pics, Alan!

    1. It is amazing the impact caffeine has and the actual withdrawal symptoms it causes. But I’ve never had a problem sleeping after coffee, tea, or Coke.

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