Café au lait

I swear, I despair of ever finding a decent cup of coffee in Los Angeles.

The scenario inevitably goes like this:

Chuck (to the coffeehouse waitor): "I'd like a cafe au lait, please."

Waitor (puzzled, scanning the menu): "Oh okay, a latte."

Chuck (annoyed): "No, I didn't ask for a latte, I asked for cafe au lait."

Waitor (standoffish): "Well, they're the same thing."

Chuck (seriously annoyed): "No no no, they're NOT the same thing. Cafe au lait is brewed coffee, preferably dark French roast with chicory, with half scalded -- NOT steamed -- milk, poured together from two pots. Cafe latte is a shot of nasty espresso dumped into a glass of steamed milk that's all froth."

Waitor (thinking): "Jesus, what's her problem ..."

And so it goes ...

Real, New Orleans-style coffee must be dark roast, brewed strong, and must include chicory. In fact, most of the coffee drunk in the Crescent City is a coffee-and-chicory blend.

The quintessential New Orleans brand of coffee (and my personal favorite) is Community Coffee, now available by mail-order by calling (800) 525-5583 in the United States.

Other well-known local coffee-and-chicory brands are French Market (available in some markets around the US), CDM (Cafe du Monde) or Union.

Brew your coffee in a drip coffeemaker only, and serve with half coffee and half scalded (not steamed!) milk. I like mine sweet, with two teaspoons of sugar. And to quote a Cafe du Monde waiter in Bunny Matthews' "F'Sure!" cartoon, "Lissen, cap ... not too many people drink dis kinda coffee black. So I ain't responsible if ya have a hawt attack r' sumpin' ..."

There is a trend among the coffeehouse/espresso bar places around the US (like the dreaded St*rb*cks) of serving cafe au lait with a froth of steamed milk plopped on top. This is an abomination. Just say no.

Bring the water almost to a boil, to a temperature of 204-208 degrees F. Using a drip-style coffeemaker with filter, pour a small amount of the water over the coffee grounds to dampen them, then wait 30 seconds. Pour more water over the grounds until the upper pot container is full. Allow to drain, then repeat until all the water is used.

Scald, do NOT boil, the milk. Pour coffee into warmed large mugs, then add the milk. For a dramatic flourish, pour them together from their individual serving pots from about 2 feet over the cup, being careful that they stream down at the same rate, and being even more careful not to pour it into the guest's lap.

YIELD: 12 cups of the best coffee in the world  

beverages page | creole and cajun recipe page
the gumbo pages | search this site

Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)