IMG_3518Coffee: I don’t know about you, but when I was in high school French class, I learned that there was un express and there was un café au lait. However, things are much murkier.

Un express is an espresso, also known as a café court or a short coffee. This is in contrast to un café allongé, or an elongated coffee, which is stretched out with water and which also goes by the name café américain. It’s more like the filtered coffee you might make with a drip coffee maker, although in a café they don’t have drip machines and just add hot water to the espresso.

Un café. With a sugar and a little piece of chocolate (that was hoovered up before I got a photo).

But you can also order “un espresso.” Or “un café,” because the default setting for coffee is espresso–small, strong, with a frothy foam, and a sugar or two on the side. It is considered correct to drink any time of the day, and at the end of meals, after dessert.

Coffee with milk is a different beast. For one thing, it’s breakfast. You will get a raised eyebrow but no objection if you order a milky coffee after a meal. Probably because it’s often a big bowl of frothy milk, with an espresso dropped in–it’s filling. And if you say, “un café au lait, s’il vous plaît,” they will nod and repeat, “un café crème,” or just “un crème.” (This is a little like how, around here, if you ask for un pain au chocolate they will nod and repeat, “une chocolatine” or “une choco,” which is the regionally preferred term, kind of like the pop/soda split in the U.S., but more heated because it’s about food and it’s in France. The debate even went to Parliament, and you can vote here.) Now, if you paid attention in high school French class, you know that crème is feminine–think la crème de la crème. But, I guess, since in this case it’s short for café, which is masculine, it gets to be masculine.

Un crème.

I caught onto the café crème instead of café au lait thing quickly, but it took me a while to figure out the masculine/feminine part. This will make my husband laugh because I am terrible with genders in French, managing to get them wrong more than half the time, he says, noting that a random guess would come out right 50% of the time.

Un café noisette. Much smaller than un crème.

Another term for confusion: un noisette (that masculine/feminine thing again!) is an espresso with a hazelnut-size dollop of milk. I have seen flavored coffees in some cities, but they are not common.

A cappuccino. You have been warned.

Also, beware that if you order a cappuccino, you will not get a coffee with frothy milk but a coffee with whipped cream–practically dessert.

Speaking of which, un café gourmand is a coffee served with an assortment of mini pastries or desserts.

A French press, bien sûr. I love it for cold-brewing iced coffee.

The title of this post is an hommage to the song, Le Jazz et le Java, by Claude Nougaro. Check it out here. A classic!

Happy Bastille Day! Rooting for les Bleus in the World Cup final on Sunday. 

40 thoughts on “Le Jazz et le Java

  1. Interesting to see the regional differences -patois-describing a coffee. As I’m close to the Italian border a cappuccino is still a cappuccino with just a third to half frothed milk rather than the cafe latte style in the US. An espresso is un expresso. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In the US, I drink black coffee. In France, it’s better as café crème.
    The French do many things well, but my kind of breakfast coffee is not one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great advice so long as you are visiting your part of France. In Grenoble and in Auvergne we would refer to ‘Un Petit Café’ if ordering an espresso, the noisette and the café crème are the same but we refer to allongé or sometimes in the darker depths of Cantal ‘un grand’ if we want an Americano. Cappuccino is routinely offered in Grenobloise restaurants probably because of the large and historic Italian population but really is not a thing in Cantal. And milky coffee …. definitely for breakfast – no latte even in the Italian quarter after petit dej.

    As an aside, I remember wanting to curl up and absolutely DIE the first time I visited Paris and my host family took me to a brasserie for croque monsieur. An English family traipsed in (this would have been about 1977) and demanded in slow, shouty English ‘WHITE COFFEE GARÇON’. In those days Parisiens did not acknowledge spoken English at all. So the waiter gave a perfectly condescending glare and affected ignorance. I lent over and said ‘you want to order café au lait’ (I having learned this in school, of course) at which point the oik fell about with laughter and said ‘Olé – that’s Spanish luv’. Fortunately, Maurice, le père, understood what my confusion was and said quietly to the waiter ‘Cafe Crème s’il vous plaît’ …. I was stultified with mortification at the appalling nature of my countrymen. I guess it stuck because I would have been shouting Allez les bleus even if England had reached the final 😉

    Lovely article and so interesting. And of course, we say Pain au Chocolat 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, there’s the whole petit and grand thing, like “dans une petite demi-heure,” or “je prendrai une petite quelque-choses.” They add “petit” like saying “just.” I’ll just have a coffee. No big deal, quoi.
      Did you vote for pain au chocolat?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I did vote for Pain au Chocolat. Actually, apparently in England calling them Chocolatine is en vogue for some reason – probably the proliferation of Brits in the South West of France. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    2. 🙂 Agree – we had many ‘funny’ and awkward experiences in all my time in France. Especially when travelling with English groups of tourists (from the language school I worked at) – much explaining and even more laughter were daily guests….
      And yes, we also say Pain au chocolat…. Isn’t it great to have these regional differences. It’s like different planets in the coffee universum 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Your French press ice coffee sounds delicious. I use a regular automatic coffee maker for ice coffee and have a New England habit of pouring any left-over into ice cube trays. Keeps the ice coffee good and cold without diluting it. (The horror of weak ice coffee!)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. TOO FUN!
    I just learned the darker the coffee bean the less caffeine!
    The French and the ITALIANS are the same on the coffee thing with THE MILK……HORROR after 11 am!!!!!!!
    I like sipping NOT DOWNING in TWO SIPS like an espresso!I need MY MILK!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true, an espresso has less caffeine than a ‘just’ café or even worse, a lungo…. It’s proven even!
      NO milk at any time – the Italians got it right. The body is not lined inside to digest coffee and milk at the same time, they are repelling each other. Is proven too and I’m a living example of the effects. Therefore, once you’re used to it, you literally can’t even think of drinking coffee with milk, or cream. Baby, it’s all possible. The mind is a strong thing 🙂
      I had to laugh at that ‘cappuccino’ – that would be an ice coffee in my menu card 😉
      But as I always hasten to say: Each to their own. If something makes you happy, stick to it!!!
      Have a great day.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I thought long and hard if I should comment on this post. Nothing of it is how I know it. Living in the Paris area, things might be different, though, so let’s have a go.
    An espresso here and anywhere I ever was is either an express or much more a ‘café serré’. With an express you out yourself as a non French, with a café serré you’re in.
    We don’t meddle with all. mixtures of coffees but have had umpteen friends visiting who love to order cappuccino. And that’s exactly what they got – not desserts as you pictured. Everywhere.
    Café crème is that but you better order just a café (simply that) and ask for a drop of milk to be added. Café au lait was only seen in the regions near the German/Swiss border. NEVER order a café renversé because they just might pour it over your head. Mother in law did that, just this side of the border…. Long explanations were needed. What she wanted was a café décafféiné 🙂
    We sometimes order, for dessert, a café gourmand, but hasten to add, with a café serré…. This is nice when a) the patissier has not his day off and b) you want to know what their dessert offerings are in general. Had a few deceptions and many good experiences!
    Now, I need my first home made super espresso! Right after a large mug of Earl Grey from England, organic as well as packed in recycled paper…. AND wonderful! Add a short piece of cinnamon bark and I’m a happy person.
    Thank you for your always interesting posts. Wish I had more time to dwell on them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is interesting. I do hear people order un café, bien serré. Mostly, it’s just “un café.”
      As for cappuccino, even in Belgium a cappuccino comes with whipped cream and not steamed milk, so I didn’t think it was a north-south thing but a francophone interpretation. After repeatedly getting bowls of whipped cream with an espresso at the bottom, I quit ordering cappuccinos and stuck to un crème, so perhaps I just didn’t test the term widely enough.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I was thrown by ‘un noisette’ the first time I heard it too, but, like you, quickly worked out why. I was in the UK recently and asked for a noisette. The waiter stared at me blankly. It took a good 20 seconds for me to remember the English (well, Italian) for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As to the m. or f. of your coffees, I think that the adjective agrees with the noun so that we have ‘un café’ and if followed by creme /noir or whatever the coffee is still m. But ever shortening the most used words, leave out the ‘café ‘ and you will still keep the ‘un creme’ as m. Our ‘chocos’ are always bought in quantities of more than one so ‘les’ covers it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I will usually order “un grand crème” and not worry about masculine/feminine. As we’re in a forgiving village there are no smothered giggles, just a luke warm coffee. Why is it never actually hot?!
    I love a café gourmande as my dessert though – I don’t usually want a full dessert, but a cup of coffee with three or four little somethings is just right. I’ve only been disappointed once.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m a hardcore coffeee drinker – strong and black! I find that the French are often surprised that I don’t take milk, neither does my husband. Perhaps there’s an expectation that Brits take milk…? Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. We were typical American coffee drinkers – full pot of drip coffee every morning – until about 3 years ago when the machine broke. I don’t understand the individual coffee pod movement at ALL and we wanted to try something different, so I broke out the French press we’d gotten as a gift somewhere along the way. I hate to be unnecessarily dramatic but it’s really been life-changing – first, it’s slowed our guzzling down by 2/3rds, it’s slower but better tasting and more satisfying. We add a sprinkle of cinnamon to the grounds. The first coffee of the day is usually one tall cup of black, or sometimes with cream or butter – with the cinnamon and the fat it ticks the same boxes as hot chocolate, interestingly, without the sweetness. I don’t know if the French have a name for that – ruined, maybe 🙂 ? At any rate, my favorite cup is the one that is in the bottom of the carafe after lunch – hot or iced, it’s pretty much a caffeine bomb that is much appreciated mid-day. I’ll have to print out your list of definitions for our trip next year, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I cold-brewed iced coffee with the French press and had some in the afternoon. Even at 3 a.m. I still had palpitations. Talk about caffeine. I don’t know how you do it!!!


  12. Thanks for the coffee education. I knew some of these terms, but was a little unclear on exactly what you got. In French cafes/bars is it like in Italy where they charge more to sit down and less if you stand, or are the prices the same? Oh, and that cappuccino looks amazingly tasty!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most of my experience here is in the little town of Carcassonne. I used to go to Paris every weekend, back in the day, and since I spent much of my time people-watching, I was more than happy to pay any surcharge for a prime seat. Even here, the idea of knocking back a coffee and leaving is anathema. So perhaps it exists, but I haven’t sought it out. As for the terms, they are rather regional, as some readers have commented. I was spurred to write this after overhearing someone “corrected” at a café, having ordered café au lait and told, “Ah, oui, un crème.” So I thought it was time to tell all about that!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. My last name is “Coffee.” When I give someone a credit card, and they see my name, “Brenda Coffee,” they invariably say what a wonderful last name I have and begin to tell me why they love coffee and its smell. I, too, love the smell and the taste, but I can’t handle the side effects. Even a little caffeine… which includes dark chocolate, iced and hot tea…. makes my heart race for hours, and I may not be able to sleep. Once I went to the emergency room because of my rapid, coffee heartbeat. So now I just sniff and imagine how wonderful it tastes. Just know I’ve conjured up the taste and smell of every one of the examples in your charming post. Thanks for giving me this little pleasure!

    Liked by 1 person

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