Ordering Coffee at a French Café in Paris
Some believe that how you take your coffee indicates who you are as a person. Love caramel machiatto, double shot, extra hot and extra-whip? You’re probably high maintenance. Like espresso? Well, you must be a coffee snob. Nursing a venti soy green tea latte? You either just got out of your yoga class or are lactose intolerant.
All joking aside, how you order a coffee is a very particular art and when you come to Paris, you’re going to have to throw all of this very particular coffee knowledge out the window. While Starbucks and Costa Coffee chains do exist, they’re pricier than local cafes and, well, why come to one of Europe’s coffee capitals and stick to Starbucks? It really would be a shame not to invest some time in getting to know France’s divine coffee drinks.
Here is a breakdown of how to order a coffee in Paris, all the while avoiding potential embarrassment amongst some of the world’s bonafide coffee aficionados.
How to Order
First things first – always say “bonjour” upon entering a café and before sitting down. This is French politeness at its most basic and will keep you in the server’s good books. Once you choose your coffee drink, the server will probably ask some variation of: “Qu’est-ce que je vous sers?” (What can I serve you?) or “Vous avez choisi?” (Have you decided?) or simply, “Je vous écoute” (quite literally, “I’m listening to you” – aka, tell me what you want). Your response is either the name of the coffee drink, or if you want to try your hand at some French, go with either “Je vais prendre…” (I’ll take…) or “Je voudrais…” (I would like…), plus the name of the drink.
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What to Order
Remember earlier when I said to forget your intricate knowledge of coffee drinks? Now’s the time to keep that in mind. When it comes to coffee, the French like simple. So, unless you’re prepared for some pretty sinister glares, I wouldn’t part from the following coffee drinks at an average Parisian café.
Un café: The French “café” is the equivalent of an “espresso” and can be ordered by saying either “un café” or “un espresso” – and that’s “e-s-presso” and not “e-x-presso,” mind you. While not as small as an Italian espresso, a French café is relatively potent and shouldn’t be ordered by anyone sensitive to bitter or strong coffee tastes.
Un café allongé: This is espresso diluted with hot water – usually mixed in for you, although occasionally the water comes separately. The flavor is similar to an American drip coffee, but slightly more bitter.
Un café filtré: This would be the equivalent to an American drip coffee, but the drink is relatively difficult to find outside Starbucks. If you don’t mind a few giggles, see if your café serves it.
Un déca: If you want your coffee drink decaffeinated, just add the word “deca” to the end of your order, such as “un café allongé deca” or simply “un deca” for a decaf espresso.
Un café glacé: It’s rare for cafés to serve iced coffee, but more and more are becoming hip to the idea, so it’s worth asking. Or, worst comes to worst, ask for “un verre avec des glaçons” – which is a glass of ice – and mix the drink yourself.
Note: If you want to order milk, you’ll need to order one of these milky drinks. Asking for a glass of milk with your “café” is asking for ridicule. Avoid at all costs.
Une noisette: This is an espresso with a splash of milk.
Un café crème: If you want a more latte taste, order this drink. It won’t be quite as milky as a latte, but you may actually prefer the full-bodied flavor. Local Tip: The term “café au lait” is also coffee with milk but is specifically meant to be used in a home setting (in the morning, in pj’s, with your significant others, drunk out of a bowl instead of a mug) and therefore is a more intimate term. So, it should not be confused with the correct term: café crème. You don’t wanna get intimate with the server! It’s a really subtle thing, but it exists.
Un cappuccino: Like most places, this is espresso with foamed milk.
Good luck. After a few tries, you’ll be ordering and drinking coffee in Paris like a pro!
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The French have much more than their coffee to be proud of. Take a Fat Tire Tour and learn about French history, politics and society, with great scenery to boot.
Here is a great map for picking out which coffee shop to go to while in Paris thanks to our friends at La Cuisine Paris.