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7 Tips for ordering coffee in Paris

A guide to ordering coffee in ParisAsk for a coffee in Paris, and nine out of 10 times you’ll find yourself handed an espresso. More often than not, this will not be what you wanted.

So, we’ve compiled seven tips to ordering coffee in France – and actually getting what you want… or at least you’ll have more fun trying.

1. Variations on the espresso

The most commonly ordered coffee in Paris, the espresso is perfect for a quick pick-me-up. If you ask for a ‘café’, this is what you are most likely to get.

There are, however, a number of variations you can ask for that will tailor the espresso more to your taste.

Une noisette – an espresso with a dash of steamed (foamed) milk. The French equivalent of a macchiato.

Un allongé – this coffee is essentially a weaker black coffee – it has double the amount of hot water than the average espresso. This is recommended by Paris-Wise as the closest thing to a drip coffee, and is like an Australian long black.

Un serré – like an Italian ristretto, this coffee has half the amount of hot water as the average espresso – it is probably about the strongest coffee you can get in Paris!

A guide to ordering coffee in Paris © Hannah Duke - My French Life

These coffees are not traditionally served with milk on the side, so you might have to ask if you want a milkier drink. And if you like your coffee decaffeinated, just add the word déca’ to your order or order un café décaféiné !

2. Looking for filter coffee?

Usually known as café Americana or occasionally café filtré by the espresso-loving Parisians, you’ll have to stick to the touristy areas if you want to find this old home comfort.

Unlike many coffee shops in America, and a fair few in the UK, filter coffee is not typically re-filled. The Sugarplum Café is the only one offering this service – so bear this in mind!

3. Coffee with milk: cappuccinos, lattes, flat whites

Famously popular among Anglo-coffee drinkers, the café crème is essentially an espresso topped off with a lot of foamed milk. It’s somewhat similar to a cappuccino – if you ask for un café crème you’ll be understood! But don’t ask for a cappuccino or you’ll end up with some watery milky coffee with lots of air froth on the top. Remember a cappuccino is Italian not French, so you need to know your way around the French names to get approximately what you are hoping for!

A guide to ordering coffee in Paris - My French Life

These milkier coffees are unpopular among the French – and Paris By Mouth points out that they will be priced accordingly. Many cafés will also view them as interchangeable, so be prepared for a surprise!

Every Aussie will also be familiar with a flat white, and glad that it has found its way to the French shores. While you might have to seek out the higher quality cafés to find a decent cup, this coffee – similar to a cappuccino but with a more velvety foam – is now readily available in Paris.

Whereas a few years ago they would have been virtually unheard of in the French capital, thanks to the coffee revolution in Paris, it’s no longer impossible to find good quality versions of these drinks. Be sure to bookmark our ultimate coffee guide to Paris, featuring our top ten favourite spots for a fantastic coffee.

If you really love your coffee or just want to be seen as an afficionado, then like us you’ll love this fabulous coffee infographic from Fine Dining Lovers. There is now no reason for not knowing your macchiato from your café crème?

4. Don’t order without reading this…

Whereas you’re free to order any coffee at any time of day, you might get a few funny looks from the traditional Parisian waiters.

A guide to ordering coffee in Paris

Milky coffee is only ever drunk at breakfast in France (and usually from a bowl à la maison). Black coffee (and, of course, usually espresso) is then drunk for the rest of the day – only never with food.

Consequently, if you try to get a milky coffee from your local corner-café during the day you probably won’t be getting the highest quality drink. Best to head to one of the cafés serving high-quality coffee.

5. Where to find soy (or skim) milk

© Hannah Duke - My French Life

If you do dare to order your café with lait in the regular French café, you should be prepared for something that comes out of a box.

Stick to the top-quality cafés if you want anything fresh, and if you need your milk soy, your safest bet is to stick with Starbucks (although Paris Match suggests Loustic as a café that stocks speciality milk).

6. Do the French drink iced coffee?

If you’re a fan of iced coffee, our only advice is to steer clear unless it is on the menu. If you attempt to explain it, your best case scenario is coffee over ice, café glacé, and your worst is fairly un-drinkable.

7. And of course don’t forget the basics

If you wish to drink your coffee in the café or on the terrace the order is sur place. If however you are ordering from a corner store or the like you can add à emporter if you wish to take your coffee with you.

It’s complicated isn’t it? Bon courage !

Do you have any French coffee horror stories? What are your tips for ordering coffee in Paris? Share them in the comment box below.

Image Credits:
1. Flat White Coffee, by Russell James Smith via Flickr.
2 & 5. Café Amalia, © Hannah Duke.
3. Latte at Doppio, via Wikimedia Commons.
4. Hot Coffee, by Joel Kelly via Flickr.


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  1. Profile photo of Robert Baird
    Robert Baird
    3 years ago

    It is not always possible to go to one of the 10 cafes in Paris that know how to make good coffee!

    I was in a small café in a small town in Alsace 2 years ago lamenting the lack of good coffee when a regular customer entered and ordered:

    “Une petite express(o) dans une grande tasse avec lait chaud”

    I instantly thought – “Bingo – Flat White”!

    As long as you don’t mind tipping the hot milk in the side jug into the cup, then it works almost every time in any café in any town in France…

    Keep up the good work Judy…

    Robert


  2. Profile photo of Jill Craig
    Jill Craig
    3 years ago

    I miss gingerbread lattes so much! 🙁