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Life in Rural France

Living the French Dream….The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

Ordering Coffee in a French Cafe

You’d think ordering coffee would be a fairly simple affair and probably quite standard from country to country. Not the case I’m afraid.

Having spent nearly ten years in Melbourne where the coffee is insanely good it’s safe to say I’m a coffee snob. I like my coffee small, strong and black. If I do add milk it’s quite literally a dash of frothed milk. Usually this is something I only do at home, as everyone seems to give me way too much. I hate creamy coffee so you’ll never catch me ordering a latte. Not that it’s called that here.

Ordering coffee properly in France is something you want to learn ASAP. And even if coffee isn’t your thing you’ll still want to know how to order your beverage of choice.

As with most things it all starts with Bonjour. To find out why Bonjour is so important in French read this post >>>

So once you’ve greeted the Barista how do you get started?

For most French people they ask for un café s’il vous plaît – a coffee please. This is the perfect phrase to use if you just want a standard cup of coffee.


Here in France coffee is served black so if you want milk and sugar you need to ask for it.

Also, your coffee will be served in a small espresso sized cup, unless you say otherwise. Remember to use the phrase “avec lait et sucre” if you want milk and sugar added. If you don’t say it you won’t get it.

Café allongé.

For those looking for a larger size coffee this is the phrase to use. Whilst still not the size of a Venti in Starbucks it’s still substantially bigger than an espresso. With added water it’s definitely weaker than a standard coffee and again is served without milk or sugar so remember to ask for them if you need them.

Side note – one of my favourite ways to ask for anything, and also a standard phrase to use, is “Je voudrais”, “I would like”. It works with pretty much everything you might need to ask for in a shop or cafe and feels less like you’re barking an order at someone.

Le café déca – pronounced DE-KA.

You’d be right in assuming this is a decaf coffee. However, it’s the espresso version so only a small version. The usual rules apply for milk and sugar and you could probably add it to any coffee order, but be warned the French don’t like menu variations. Forewarned is forearmed.

And if you’re looking for other milk alternatives such as soy or oat then you might be better off looking for a chain coffee place. This sort of thing is not commonplace in French cafes, and certainly not in rural France. It’s just the way it is.

Café crème.

This is my hubby’s favourite. He loves a nice creamy coffee. It can vary around France but it will often have double the amount of water than other coffee. And it will usually have fresh cream on the top or a combination of cream and milk.

Café au lait (coffee with milk).

The French tend to have this type of coffee for breakfast and it’s more like a latte than anything else. Originally it was served in a bowl which you drank from using both hands, and not served in a glass or a cup. You don’t tend to see this anymore unless you’re in a very traditional French cafe.

Café gourmand.

This is my favourite to order at a restaurant when I can’t make up my mind which dessert I’d like. Why have one when you can have three?

Traditionally it’s an espresso coffee served with 3 mini desserts and it’s utterly decadent. You don’t usually have a choice of dessert though so it can be a bit potluck what you get. But as most desserts in France are seriously yummy, it’s not usually a problem.

Café noisette.

Now even though noisette means hazelnut I’m afraid there is no hazelnut in this coffee. It derives its name from colour. The colour of the coffee is supposed to look like that of a hazelnut when mixed with frothy milk.

I’ve never had one as I don’t like milk in my coffee. The easiest way to explain it is that it’s like a macchiato with a dash of frothed milk on the top.

Chocolat chaud.

Not a coffee fan? No problem. Even though I’m a self-confessed coffee addict I do sometimes swap it out for a hot chocolate. They make the BEST hot chocolates here in France using a creamy cacao and its velvet heaven. You can always add a shot of espresso to it and turn it into a Mocha, known here as a Moka.

So there you have it, a round up of the most popular coffee you’re likely to find on a menu in a French cafe. It took me a while to realise I needed to ask for sugar when ordering. It wasn’t bad service but simply the way they do things here.

So now my standard phrase is simply “Je voudrais un café s’il vous plaît avec du sucre”.

I hope you now feel ready to order your coffee however you take it. And be confident in what you’ll receive. Give it a go and see what happens. I mean how bad can it be? It’s only coffee you’re ordering.

À bientôt et merci beaucoup!

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