How to Order Coffee in Paris

Each time my husband and I visit Paris, we have to reacquaint ourselves with how to order coffee in Paris! You walk into a Paris cafe in the first thing you want to know is how does French coffee ordering work?

How to Order Coffee in Paris Main

During a recent 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.” An espresso which just a kiss of hot milk. It's called a noisette (hazelnut in English) because of the color of the coffee.

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

We got regular coffee with milk. Both 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!

That got me thinking about the extensive types of French coffee drinks that are available to order. I thought it might be fun and useful to describe the different types and how to order coffee in Paris, even if Paris coffee shops do their own thing! These are the ones that I am familiar with if any of my Parisian blogging buddies want to chime in, please do!

How to Order Coffee in Paris _ A Noisette

French coffee types

  • Un 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
French Culture: Customs & Traditions Mashup

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:
> You can find great new coffee spots in Lindsey's book, The New Paris.
> My friend Kasia has her favorite Coffee Picks too.
> 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.
> My friends at La Cuisine Paris have put together a great map of their favorite coffee places.

Phrygian Cap: The Paris Olympics Mascot

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

And if you are heading to Paris anytime soon, consider purchasing a Paris Pass before you go, it will save you money on many Paris attractions, leaving you more money for coffee!

Illustrations commissioned from Linden Eller.

For a visual summary of this post, check out my coffee in Paris web story!

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  1. Nathalie Hamidi says:

    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.

    1. @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.

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

  3. La Grenadine says:

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

  4. C. Y. Chow says:

    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. Lynn @ Midday Escapades says:

    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!

  8. Julie stine says:

    I love this post and the one on breakfast in Paris.

  9. Stephanie says:

    Ahaha!! I’m French and that made me laugh! How confusing it is for foreigners 😀 Sorry about that but coffee is a serious business right? 😀

  10. Whitney Reynolds says:

    This is so helpful! When I go to Paris, I definitely want to get my coffee order right. Thank you!

  11. Holly Roberts says:

    This is a fantastic post! It’s the little things like this that are so important! Thank you .

  12. I’m always totally overwhelmed when ordering coffee by the sheer amount of choice…and that’s when I’m ordering in English! We are heading to France in a few weeks, so I imagine this will come in extremely useful. Luckily I don’t really drink coffee, and my husband is well schooled on his order. Luckily my ‘vin blanc s-il vous plait’ never has any problems!

  13. Yukti Agrawal says:

    For us Indians coffee means coffee powder in hot milk and water with sugar but reading so many types of coffee in Paris makes me confuse. I was looking out for my taste and then I figured out Un café au lait is my type. So great list and now I can order perfect coffee in Paris after reading your post. Thanks for all tips and details.

  14. hahaha, this is such good reading for me!
    We’ve been back from Paris recently, and I think we’ve got “Un café crème – coffee served in a large cup (as opposed to a normal size cup) with hot milk/cream” all the time, basically, I guess it’s called “(coffee) latte” on an international level?

    For the coffee, yeah, I absolutely agreed that the Italians are much more picky, as to see my boyfriend on our Paris trip, he refused to order any coffee for himself.

    I have a post about how to drink coffee like an Italian if you are interested to read 😀

  15. Love this guide! I love coffee so it will be helpful next time I’m in France. The illustrations are adorable!