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How To Order Coffee in a Parisian Café

It’s Not As Simple As ‘Un Café, S’il Vous Plaît’
Cups of coffee
Last updated March 23, 2024
In France, if you order just ‘coffee’, you’ll get an espresso. If that’s not what you’re after and you’re sitting on a traditional French café terrace, here are the different types of coffee you’ll find on the menu.

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You’d think ordering coffee around the world would be easy, right? In most languages coffee even sounds similar, so often you just throw that word out at a nearby waiter and expect to get just what you wanted. But not so fast.

In France, if you order just ‘coffee’, or ‘un café’, you’ll get an espresso. A tiny cup of strong black coffee. If that’s what you’re after, great, but if you have different tastes, read on.

While many trendier cafés around the world, including Paris, now follow the Australian nomenclature and offer ‘long blacks’ and ‘flat whites,’ if you’re sitting on a traditional French café terrace, there are usually only certain types of coffee you will find on the menu:

  • Café / Petit noir / Espresso – Small, strong, and black. This is the daily staple of the Parisian coffee drinker and is often imbibed standing at the bar, where it’s also cheaper than on the terrace.
  • Café serré – Even smaller and even stronger than an espresso. This one makes your toes curl!
  • Noisette – An espresso with a drop of milk.
  • Allongé – An espresso with some extra hot water.
  • Américain / Americano / Filtré – Larger than an allongé and filtered. This is the staple of most English and American visitors since it’s most like the coffee back home.
  • Café créme / Latte / Café au lait / Cappuccino – Even though there should be differences when you order one of these, you tend to get the same coffee with frothy milk served in a larger cup, or even a bowl to dunk your tartine or croissant into at breakfast. This is a breakfast-only coffee, and like in Italy, is never ordered after 10 am.
  • Déca – A decaffeinated allongé. Although no one would admit to ever ordering one of these, quite a few people actually do.
  • Café gourmand – This one is a little treat. It’s a coffee (espresso, unless you state otherwise) plus three or four tiny little desserts. Great for after dinner or just as a little indulgence between meals.

Barista making latte art.
KB Coffee Roasters, Photo by Puxan Photo

Another good thing to know — apart from breakfast, the French don’t drink coffee with food, only after finishing their meal. So, if you order dessert, you’ll get your coffee after you’ve finished eating, not with your dessert. That is, unless you have the café gourmand, of course!

And finally, if you really need coffee during lunch hours (12-2pm), don’t be surprised to be sent packing, as restaurants usually reserve tables for people who are dining. But look to the outer edges of terraces for tables not set for lunch, and you might be in luck.

Now that you know what to order, check out some of our favorite coffee shops and French cafés in Paris.

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