After studying abroad in France for a semester, I'm convinced that the food tastes better than anything I've ever eaten, and the coffee in France is no exception. However, if you show up at a French café expecting to order a nonfat venti drink with almond milk, you may be in for a shock. 

French coffee menus confused me during my first couple weeks in the country, so I created this guide to explain the different types of coffee and how to order them. One of the biggest differences between coffee in France versus coffee in the U.S. is that the French rarely take their coffee to go, so you'll likely receive strange reactions if you ask for a Styrofoam cup.

Some of my favorite moments spent in France occurred at cafés where I spent lazy afternoons sipping a coffee and journaling, and trying authentic French coffee will only enhance your experience in the country. Here are the most common types of French coffee, followed by tips for ordering and café culture. 


The most basic type of coffee, a café (which, amusingly, you order at a café), is similar to a small, plain coffee you would order in the States. Coffee in France comes in smaller sizes than in the U.S., but you can always order more if you aren't getting your caffeine fix. When you order un café, the server may give you other options, as explained below.


This term is familiar to us Americans—basically, it's just a shot of espresso in a cute, tiny cup. It's strong and serves as a great morning pick-me-up. If one shot isn't enough, you can order a double espresso.


Laura Santi

A similar size to an espresso, a noisette is a shot of espresso with a dash of milk and foam. It's sweet and is often served with a tiny piece of chocolate candy, which you can stir into the drink to get that perfect, chocolatey flavor. 

Café Crème

Laura Santi

My personal favorite, a café crème is the closest thing you'll find to a latte. It comes in a size closer to standard coffee sizes in the U.S., and is topped with foam. Most French cafés serve coffee with a packet or two of sugar on the side and a small biscuit or candy, so if you prefer your coffee on the sweeter side, you can stir the sugar in and dip the biscuit into it. The café au lait is very similar, just without the foam.

Café Viennoise

Laura Santi

A combination of coffee and hot chocolate, a café viennoise satisfies your sweet tooth while still giving you that boost of caffeine. It often comes topped with chocolate shavings and chantilly (whipped cream). It's probably the closest French coffee drink to the overly sugary American coffees, so if you're craving that Starbucks caramel brulée Frappuccino, drink up.

Dos and Don'ts

The French are extremely proud of their food, and for good reason—I still haven't found equivalents back home. Because they make such wonderful food and take pride in the art of cuisine, they consider it rude to ask to change a menu item or order something not on the menu. Don't ask for a coffee drink you are used to ordering back home, or ask for syrup or dairy alternatives. Order what is on the menu, and if you are lactose-intolerant or vegan, the espresso is a safe bet.

If you want to try ordering in French, the easiest way to place an order is to say "Je prends" or "Je voudrais..." followed by the coffee name. If you are seated at a café table without a menu and know which coffee you want, place your order when the server comes, as all of the above coffees are likely to be served at any French establishment. Bon appétit.