How to order coffee in Paris

photo by Allison Choppick

One of the greatest pleasures of going to Paris is sipping coffee in pavement cafes, watching the heady rhythm of Parisian life rush past you. But if you’ve read Stephen Clarke’s irreverent portrayal of Parisians in his memoirs A year in the merde, you might already suspect that ordering a coffee in a French cafe without knowing any French can be a difficult endeavor. French coffee is delicious and you will likely enjoy it very much, as long as you manage to figure out how to ask for what you actually want. Coffee drinking might be a tricky business, but here are some tips on how to order coffee in Paris that will ensure that you get your desired cup of caffeinated wonder.


Predictably enough, this is the basic building block of your conversation with your waiter/waitress. But while in other countries you can order a cup of coffee and get want you wanted, in a Paris cafe, asking a café will most likely result in a tiny (and disappointing) espresso.Even if the cup is bigger than an espresso, be careful, because it will probably be just as strong as an espresso. If you just want a nice cup of black coffee, then order a café noir.

Café au Lait

Café au lait is extremely popular with tourists, but don’t think for a second that it’s simply a cup of coffee with a dash of milk, because café au lait has more than a dash of steamed milk. This creamy combination of espresso or dark coffee and steamed milk is perfect for a cool day, and it usually comes in large-ish cups or bowls.

Café Crème

If you want a normal-sized cup of coffee with just a bit of something to cut back the bitterness, then you should get a café crème, which is regular coffee with just a hint of hot fresh cream, or in some places milk.

Café Noisette

Café Noisette, despite its name, does not contain any hazelnut (noisette) flavoring. The name of the this espresso with a dash of milk comes from the rich brown color of the drink. In many cafes, you will be brought an espresso and a small pot of milk, so you can add as much or as little as you want.

Café Léger

If the regular espresso is too strong for your taste, then you can order a café léger, which is just an ordinary espresso with double the quantity of water.

Additional tips

No matter how great it is to lounge on a terrace while drinking your coffee, keep in mind that drinking at the bar will cost you a lot less.

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