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French Coffee Culture 101: Guide With Etiquette & Popular Drinks

French coffee croissant

Whether you’re traveling to France or just want to feel French for a day, why not try drinking coffee like the French? You may wonder what the most popular coffee drinks are and how to order them. And you may be surprised to learn the truth about common French coffee myths…

Keep reading to become an expert on all things French coffee! You’ll be passing as a local before you know it.

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What is French Coffee?

French coffee refers to the particular way that the French drink their coffee. It’s not necessarily made with French roast coffee beans (which just refers to the roast level), and it probably doesn’t come from a French press. French coffee is typically small cups of espresso drunk at outdoor cafés or restaurants.

French cafe
Image Credit: Camilla Brodard, Shutterstock

Is the French Press Really French?

Surprisingly, the French press isn’t particularly French. It was invented by two Frenchmen in 1852 but didn’t become popular until two Italians patented the design in 1928. French presses have been popular all over the world ever since, but not especially in France, where coffee lovers largely stick to espresso.

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The 8 Most Popular French Coffee Drinks:

1. Café

What is espresso?
Image Credit: Bouhassoune Moha, Shutterstock

If you order a simple café in France, you won’t be served a regular cup of black coffee. In keeping with most of Europe, the classic coffee in France is espresso. Order un café and you’ll receive a small cup filled with a rich shot of espresso.


2. Café crème

cappuccino cafe creme

A café crème is essentially a cappuccino — but don’t let the French hear you calling it that! This creamy drink is made with a shot of espresso and a dollop of steamed milk.


3. Café Americain

black coffee
Image Credit: Ben Kolde, Unsplash

This is the French term for an americano — a shot or two of espresso mixed with hot water. If you’re desperate for a cup of black coffee in France, this is as close as you’ll get!


4. Noisette

Noisette coffee
Image Credit: kathringabriel, Shutterstock

Noisette means “hazelnut” in French, but this coffee doesn’t have any added flavoring. The name comes from the light brown color of the drink, which is essentially a macchiato. That’s a shot of espresso with a small amount of steamed milk. This is a very popular French coffee drink.


5. Café serré

This French coffee drink is for serious coffee lovers only! It’s a shot of espresso made with half the water, resulting in a very concentrated, fairly bitter cup. Toss this one back without grimacing and we’ll be impressed…


6. Café Viennois

cafe viennois
Image credit: Coffee Affection

Prefer something a little sweeter? The Café viennois is made with espresso, whipped cream, and cocoa powder. How decadent!


7. Café déca

black coffee in a white ceramic cup with saucer
Image Credit: Hasan Albari, Pexels

If you’ve already overdosed on caffeine, you’ll love this one: déca means “decaf” in French! Order a café déca to skip the caffeine in your favorite drink.


8. Café gourmand

café gourmand on the counter
Image Credit: karen mandau, Shutterstock

Prefer not to drink coffee on an empty stomach? There’s a French coffee term for that! Ask for a café gourmand and you’ll receive a classic café (shot of espresso) along with a tray of small pastries (petit fours).

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Milk and Sugar

The French do drink their coffee with milk and sugar — sometimes. Sugar is often served with café, on the saucer or tray. Some French people dip a sugar cube into their espresso, let it soak for a moment, and then eat it! You can order a café au lait (coffee with milk) at a restaurant or coffee shop, but this is generally an at-home drink.

cup of cappuccino coffee with croissants on wooden table
Image Credit: Nitr, Shutterstock

Pastries

What do the French eat with their coffee? A classic breakfast choice is a croissant, baguette, or tartine. Later in the day, you might find sweet treats like petit fours or éclairs. And if you order a café gourmand, you’ll be served espresso and a selection of pastries!

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All About French Coffee: The Bottom Line

Now you know everything there is to know about French coffee! You can order a noisette or a café créme with confidence, or try dipping a sugar cube in your coffee like a Frenchman. And why not try a chocolatey café viennois or enjoy a croissant on the side? You’ll love your authentic French coffee experience. Bon appétit!

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Ollie Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones is a zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia. Originally from the US, he thought he loved coffee before his big move down under, but his discovery of the flat white and the cafe on every corner has taken his coffee passion to a whole new level. He's so excited to share his knowledge and experience with readers worldwide (and keep testing coffee drinks while he's at it).

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