Spending time at Paris cafés is a must for any trip. But over the years as I’ve introduced friends to the Paris café culture, I’ve realized how confusing it can be to get what you want when ordering your coffee. There are several nuances and it is rather different than coffee culture in the United States. So this post is to help you demystify the process and ensure you get what you were hoping for in order to properly caffeinate.
How to Order Coffee in Paris
I have so many happy memories of sitting at a French café terrace and sipping a coffee and people watching. It’s something I hope everyone can experience some time in their life. It’s a way to ensure you slow down and really enjoy Paris the way the French do.
Paris coffee orders are actually rather straightforward and much more traditional than what you’ll experience in the United States. Particularly at cafés – you’re not going to find baristas with loads of syrups or foams or other fancy concoctions. Drinking coffee in France is a more traditional affair. So much so that most of the time you may not even be offered a menu.
So as you spend time in Paris, it’s best to know what to order for your coffee so that you’ll ensure you get what you actually were hoping for! I’m here to help decipher French coffee culture!
Below is a handy list that’ll help you when ordering coffee at a café, restaurant, coffee shop or hotel.
Filtered coffee – often just one cup. The French do not tend to do black coffee refills as we do in the States. So named as the French really love their coffees with milk so they largely don’t do black coffee.
My personal favorite when in Paris! This is an espresso with a spot of cream. They are so delicious and easy to down! Curious about the name? It comes from the French word for hazelnut thanks to the color.
A shot of espresso, often very dark and bitter. When French waiters offer you un Café after a meal – they are referring to a Café Express. Due to the strong nature of it they are almost always served with sugar packets or sugar cubes on the side.
A double shot of espresso.
Espresso diluted with water.
Café Crème or Café Latte
Often referred to as un crème for short, this is coffee drowned by milk. If you attempt to order a Cappuccino, you’re likely to get a Café Crème but just with a little cinnamon or espresso powder on top.
Not to be mistaken for un Café au Lait…
Café au Lait
The French drink their Café au Laits often from large bowls and it is freshly ground coffee with a bit of warmed milk added (often Whole milk). It is often confused with a Café Crème by visitors to France.
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Wondering where the iced drinks are? The French really don’t do iced coffee or iced lattes and certainly don’t share the enthusiasm for them that Americans have. If you attempt to order one I can assure you that you’ll likely end up with filtered coffee that’s had ice put in it. Avoid the disappointment and stick to the above menu when it comes to ordering at cafés.
And know that traditionally French make their coffees with whole milk / cow’s milk. But plant-based milks are increasing in popularity and you can now find oat milk at a variety of Paris coffee shops. There may be an up-charge, however.
A few other handy phrases when it comes to coffee orders:
Meaning you’ll have your coffee on-site. You’ll be enjoying it while you sit.
This means takeaway. However note that coffee at cafés is likely not available takeaway. If you’re in a time crunch, many cafés will make your shot of espresso or similar drink available at the bar (similar to Italian coffee culture). And it will actually be less expensive if you enjoy it at the bar vs. sitting down!
But cafés in Paris are meant to be social spots – with the intention to have you linger over your coffee. Lean into it and enjoy – it’s truly one of my favorite Parisian pastimes and I love catching up with friends while doing so.
If you head to a more specialty coffee shop in Paris – of which there is a growing number as of the last few years – you’ll get more options such as cortados, iced drinks (rarely) or Flat Whites. Specialty coffee shops are also more likely to have takeaway cups available.
And etiquette is important in France! Be sure you’re adding S’il vous plaît (Please) to the end of your coffee order when you place your request at a French coffee shop or French cafés.
I hope you found this post helpful! I’d love to know in the Comments below – what is your coffee order?