French Friday – How to order coffee in Paris


During our last trip to Paris my husband and I noticed a distinctly new difficulty in coffee ordering. Our coffee of preference while in France is the “noisette.” This is an espresso which just a kiss of hot milk. It’s called a noisette (hazelnut in English) because of the color of the coffee.

Not complicated right? For nearly a week, no matter where we went, even to places we had frequented many times, it was nearly impossible to get the correct version.

We got regular coffee with hot milk. Regular coffee with cold milk. Espresso with no milk. Espressos with cold milk. It was bizarre!

If it had been anywhere else but Paris I would just shrug it off, but this was Paris!

This past weekend my husband and I went to French Cafe in Berkeley called Cafe Rouge. We ate at the zinc bar (fake, but that’s ok) and devoured three appetizers and a yummy local beer (Truman pils). When we finished the meal I ordered two noisettes (after I explained to the bartender what they were). They came back perfect!

That reminded me of our last trip to Paris and that got me to thinking about the extensive types of coffee drinks that you can order. I thought it might be fun and useful to describe the different types and how to order coffee in Paris. These are the ones that I am familiar with, if any of my Parisian blogging buddies want to chime in, please do!

French coffee types

  • How-to-Order-Coffee-in-ParisUn café – plain coffee with nothing added, strong and (usually, not always) brewed like espresso, but served in a bigger cup
  • Un café au lait – coffee with steamed milk, you will sometimes get the coffee served in one pot or in the cup, and then a pitcher of steamed milk/cream
  • Un café crème – coffee served in a large cup (as opposed to a normal size cup) with hot milk/cream
  • Un café americain – filtered coffee
  • Un expresso or un express – espresso – that one is easy!
  • Un noisette – espresso with a hint of hot milk/cream in it
  • Un crème – espresso with half of hot milk/cream (served in a coffee cup rather than an espresso cup)
  • Un allongé – espresso coffee with double the amount of water, basically a weak black coffee
  • Un serré – espresso coffee with half the usual amount of water, basically strong black coffee, in Switzerland this is called a ristretto (it is what I drink every morning from my Swiss Nespresso machine
  • Un double – a double espresso
  • Un déca – decaf coffee

If you want anything beyond that, you better go to Starbucks. But don’t expect that you will be able to order anything like a “half-caf-half-decaf-extra-blah-blah-with-no-foam, etc.” Never going to happen!

Coffee etiquette in France

So the French are a little “picky” on this, but believe me, it is worse in Italy! In restaurants you can drink a café noir (black) or espresso any time of day, but the only time you can drink it with food is at breakfast.

Also, you will not be served your coffee until after you have finished your dessert, no matter what! The only way to get around this is to order a café gourmand. Normally it is customary to have an espresso (or a deca espresso), so if you try to order something that has milk/cream, they will look at you a bit strange or ignore you, but my husband and I still do it.

You have now been educated in the ways of coffee à la France.  Go forth an order.

Great places for Coffee in Paris

Here are a few great lists of coffee spots in Paris from friends that live there:
> Lindsey of Lost in Cheeseland has a great write up on all the best coffee shops in Paris.
> David Lebovitz shares where he thinks you can get a good cup of coffee in Paris.
> Haven in Paris shares cafes that have opened recently.
> Paris by Mouth has a listing of coffee places by arrondissement.

How about you? Anyone else have any coffee related travel stories?


  1. In north Italy, there is caffè corretto – they “correct” it with grappa, a strong alcohol. Once you’ve drunk the coffee, you can ask the bartender to “wash” the coffee sediments with another round of grappa.

    • @Nathalie, they also do a coffee with Schapps in the German part of Switzerland. That will get you “happy!”

  2. I hardly ever drink coffee, as I am more of a tea gal 🙂 Neverthless, I have been known to order in a Brussels café un lait russe, (translated a Russian milk), which is the same as the café renversé you find in France : lots of hot milk and a dash of espresso.

    • @Ingrid, my husband says you also get the renversé in Switzerland also, never had it when I worked there!

  3. haha, I don’t like coffee.
    So it’s easier for me. =p I ask “hot chocolate with chantilly”. =D

  4. This post is making me want to take up coffee drinking again. But I have to resist! Hot chocolate is my alternative these days…

  5. Andi, have I told you how much I love you? I seriously need to make you my home page. You have brought back such good coffee memories for me of my one trip to Paris. Un noisette was the only kind I ordered and the cafe gourmand was the ultimate dessert for me. I. Love. You. and Coffee!

  6. OMG, I shouldn’t have read this article at 9PM, because now I want a coffee!!!!!!! I’m such a coffee-feen. I LOVE café au laits. Yum yum!

  7. Paris café menus in a nutshel, That’s pretty much what you can get at Paris’ famous café terraces. Leave the “half-caf-half-decaf-extra-blah-blah-with-no-foam, etc. to specialzed coffe shops, elsewhere you’ll get serious, exasperated looks from parisian waiters. That one made laugh!

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