cafe au lait

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cafe au lait

When my husband first arrived in France he went to a bar and ordered two beers (deux bières). The waiter looked astonished and my husband had to insist several times that indeed he wanted two beers. Finally the waiter disappeared and returned a few minutes later with a small plate of butter (du beurre) which he left on the table. We still laugh about it.

To help you avoid similar problems here is a list of drinks you might like to order while visiting the Hexagon. And don’t forget the power of hand signals; I think the waiter would have understood if my husband had held up a couple of fingers to help with the counting.

Your morning coffee

If you order coffee in a café in France (and I surely hope you do) you will receive a small cup of espresso strength coffee. Some places you can get a cup of filtered coffee, known as café à l’américaine. Here are some more terms to help you get your java order filled the way you want:

  • Une Noissette – This is an espresso with a hint of cream or milk floating on top.
  • Cafe au Lait – An espresso with hot milk added.
  • Cafe Leger or Allonge – Espresso-strength coffee that has been watered down.

In the café you can also order:

  • Chocolat Chaud – Hot chocolate. Lots of times this will be made without sugar – you add the amount you want.
  • The – Tea, usually served in a small pot with a cup and sugar alongside it.
  • Thé au Lait – Tea with a small pitcher of hot milk too.

At lunchtime

You may not be ready for a glass of wine with lunch as many French people are, so why not try one of France’s many bottled waters. When ordering water in a restaurant keep in mind that it is not automatically brought to the table and if you want ice cubes, you will have to ask (they’re called glaçons).

  • Une carafe d’eau – This is what you ask for if you don’t want to pay extra for bottled water. You will be brought a pitcher of tap water.
  • Une bouteille de l’eau plat – Bottled mineral water without any carbonation. Why not try different ones and see if you have a favorite.
  • De l’eau gazeuse – Carbonated mineral water. You will find that the amount of carbonation can vary from light (Saint Yorre for example) to heavy (Perrier for example).


The before dinner drink ritual is alive and well in France. If you are in the south, why not try a glass of pastis, France’s licorice liquor? Or perhaps a kir or kir royal (this is black currant liqueur with either wine or champagne). There are so many regional specialties at cocktail hour and it is fun to try what the locals are drinking.


It would be a shame to come to France and not try some of the wines. France has numerous wine regions and each specializes in certain sorts of wine. Here are a few terms just to get you started:

  • vin rouge – red wine
  • vin blanc – white wine
  • sec – dry
  • doux – sweet
  • AOC – stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. This signifies the wine has to meet certain standards and have been grown in a certain region.
  • vin de table – these are wines that do not have AOC. If you are lucky, you can find good ones, and they are in general less expensive.


Well if you made it through the meal and still would like to try something else, you could order an after dinner drink. Brandies, known as eaux de vie, are popular. You will of course find Cognac and Armagnac, but you might also like to try Calvados, which is a French apple brandy from Normandy. Many people make their own brandies and restaurant owners will often offer you a small glass of their homemade eau-de-vie (on the house) at the end of a meal.

After all that food and drink you might like to try one of France’s herbal teas to help you digest. Herbal teas are known as tisanes and you can find different ones to remedy just about any situation. Some popular ones include verbena, lime flower, mint, chamomile, and sage.

Finally, when raising your glass in France remember these words for the toast:

  • Sante – Health.
  • A la votre – To yours, meaning to your health.
  • Tchin-tchin – This is the noise of glasses touching in a toast. The French will frequently say it before taking their first sip.


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