Café au Lait vs. Latte: What’s The Difference?

By Robert Parsons August 20, 2021

It might seem like everything is compared to a latte, and the assumption isn’t wrong. Lattes are a point of reference for most drinks and rightfully so. It is a base ground for the two most common ingredients in any coffee shop: espresso and milk. 

That being said, today we are comparing a latte vs café au lait in the ingredients, the flavor, and pros and cons of each. If you are well versed in the coffee lingo, you have most likely heard of each of these drinks, but you might not be familiar with the real differences between a cafe au lait and latte. We are going to change that. So keep reading to understand the differences between a cafe au lait and a latte.

What is a Cafe Au Lait?

A Cafe Au Lait is more than just a beautiful phrase to impress your friends with at the cafe, it’s also a quite common drink made up of only milk and coffee. Unlike most drinks, however, this is made up of strong drip coffee rather than espresso. You can also use a french press to create a cafe au lait. 

This distinction of coffee type over espresso makes a big difference. Since drip coffee is not as potent as espresso, a cafe au lait appears lighter when mixed with the milk which is where its other name comes from “white coffee”. You might be making this for yourself at home already if you like your coffee heavy on the milk. The key is to pour equal parts coffee and milk. Simple enough? 

What is a Latte? 

A latte is the other end of the spectrum. It is made up of espresso, steamed milk, and foam. While it is made of espresso which is definitely stronger than drip or french press coffee, there is much more milk than espresso at an almost 2 to 1 ratio. This calms down the espresso to create a smooth, easy to sip on drink that has grown in popularity tremendously since it was invented. 

Another key factor in a classic latte is the foam also known as latte art that most people associate with a latte. Unlike a cafe au lait, this involves some serious barista skills to stretch the steamed milk in a way that creates the foam that can sit on the top and be used to create fun and quirky designs. 

If you are trying to make your own latte at home, it is almost impossible to complete it properly without an at-home espresso machine and some sort of milk frother, so most people tend to rely on coffee shops for their lattes. However, we have loads of articles explaining how to create the perfect latte with a home espresso machine, so if you have some time on your hands, give it a read and see. 

Pros and Cons

As a side by side comparison, a latte and cafe au lait are actually quite different. The two use entirely different ingredients for the most part to create a coffee masterpiece. Here’s our condensed components of each to help determine which is the best drink for you: 

Cafe au Lait

Drip Coffee and French Press

Cafe au Lait uses strong coffee as the base. Because of this, it is more familiar in flavor to those who opt for coffee over espresso. Coffee also contains less caffeine than espresso when compared in amount, so if you are looking for a less caffeinated drink, this might be a great fit. 

Half Milk Half Coffee

Cafe au Lait’s use equal parts coffee and milk to create a very mild coffee flavor. This is great for those of us who will never join the black coffee club. It also is a requirement to be a large fan of milk whether that be 2%, almond, oat, or the many other milk substitutes that are offered. The drink comes warmed both with the coffee and the milk. 

Easy to Make at Home

This is a much easier drink to make at home since almost everyone has some form of a coffee maker and milk in their house. Warm up the milk, brew the coffee, and pour equal parts of each and voila!


Espresso and Milk

Lattes are made up of espresso, milk, and foam. This is a better option for those who prefer espresso as an extra kick of caffeine but need milk to help smooth it out. 

More milk than Espresso

The ratio is heavy on milk rather than espresso at almost 2:1. Depending on the cafe, you can order up to 3 shots of espresso which is paired with loads of milk to keep it in the correct ratio. This is not the drink for someone who doesn’t like milk. 

More Difficult to Make

Because a latte is made up of espresso and stretched milk, it can be difficult to create at home due to the level of barista expertise to create the perfect formula for froth which is the special touch that creates a latte. Fancier home espresso makers do have the ability to create a great latte, however, they come with a hefty price typically.