Flat White VS Cafe Au Lait: how Two Coffees are Different?

Flat White VS Cafe Au Lait: how Two Coffees are Different?

Those who think coffee is a simple drink made one way need to rethink. There are wide varieties of coffees and a range of brewing methods. Each has its taste and flavor. Nowadays, too many varieties are available in coffee shops and knowing how each one tastes or looks is important before ordering.

For home brewers too, different types of coffee can be made at home . Flat white and cafe au lait are both popular coffee drinks that resemble each other but have a separate identities. 

If you want to understand flat white and cafe au lait, this article is for you. We will compare both drinks and discuss the details that distinguish them and are essential for their tastes. 

What is Flat White?

Flat White VS Cafe Au Lait

Flat white is an espresso-based drink originating from Australia or New Zealand. The drink has coffee with steamed milk and a microfoam on the top. Microfoam is milk infused with a lot of air, so it tastes and looks bubbly, light, and textured. 

The key to flat white is that the true flavor of espresso remains intense and rich with a very thin microfoam. The coffee is still strong enough, with a bubbly feel of cream on the top. 

Flat white is served with both single or double shots of espresso. 

What is Cafe Au Lait?

cafe au lait

Cafe au lait has been around for many centuries. The coffee originated in France and is more popular in Europe.

The simple translation of the name is coffee with milk in French. It's a combination of strong coffee.

As it's not an espresso-based drink, you can make strong coffee from French press, moka pot, or drip coffee. The milk added in cafe au lait is always hot. The coffee combines one part coffee, and one part steamed milk. 

Flat White VS Cafe Au Lait: The Differences

Now that we know the two drinks let's point out some differences and similarities. 

Espresso-based Drink

Flat white is one of many espresso-based drinks. You need an espresso machine to make one or two shots of espresso. Now you can make an espresso-like drink if you still need the machine with French press or moka pot. Both make excellent coffee, but espresso is still different as the machine pulls out strong, concentrated coffee used as a base. 

Cafe au lait is not an espresso-based drink. You can make it with strong coffee made from any coffee brewing technique.

Milk Ratio

Cafe au lait has more milk. The ratio of coffee and milk in cafe au lait is 1:1. It has a more creamy and milky taste.

Flat white uses less coffee. It has some bubbly milk sweetness, but coffee taste is over-powering.

Since flat white uses espresso, the rich coffee flavor is more prominent with just a hint of milk sweetness. 

Type of Milk

Flat white uses a thin layer of milk foam on the top. You need enough air to make the milk bubbly but need to steam more to froth the milk. The number of bubbles should make only 5 cm of a thin layer on the top. 

Cafe au lait, milk is steamed, but we don't add bubbles or microfoam on the top. It's just hot milk added to the base of coffee. Some baristas add a little bubble on the top, but typical cafe au lait only has hot milk added to the coffee with the bubbly or foam.


The first distinction that strikes the eye when you see both flat white and cafe au lait in the coffee shops is how these two coffees look. Cafe au lait is a simple mug with coffee and milk. Only steamed milk is added, so the top has no creamy, foamy texture. 

Flat white is adored with latte art. We usually see beautiful patterns created by skillful baristas with bubbly milk on the top. It adds only a thin layer, but the coffee looks beautiful with latte art.


Both types of coffee are very different when it comes to taste. Cafe au lait taste much like the usual coffee with milk we make at home. It balances the bitterness of coffee with the sweetness of the milk. Milk is only steamed and not bubbled, so no foamy texture is felt while taking a sip. 

Flat white is, on the other hand, more of a rich bitter coffee drink with a very thin foam on the top. The rich espresso taste is more prominent and cuts a bit with the foam on the top, but the coffee flavor remains bold and intense. 


flat white vs cafe au lait

Flat white is usually served in ceramic cups in coffee houses. It is often served in glass at some coffee houses. 

French serve cafe au lait in a bowl. However, in the US, cafe au lait is served in a regular coffee mug. Cafe au lait is served in the Netherlands in a tall glass mug. 

flat white serving in bowl

Final Words

Cafe au lait and flat white are different types of coffee with distinct tastes. Cafe au lait is more creamy, milky, and suitable for homemaking as it does not require an espresso machine. Flat white has a rich bitter taste of coffee with a thin microfoam. It is an espresso base drink.

Related Articles

Which Brewing Method Takes the Longest?

How to Make Coffee Without a Coffee Maker?

Moka Pot VS Pour Over