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How Would You Like Your Coffee?

Coffee… For many, it’s more than a drink: it’s a pastime, it’s a passion. France is indeed a coffee-drinking nation, and for French people there is no greater pleasure than sipping on une tasse de café (a cup of coffee) on the terrasse (terrace) of a local café while watching the world go by. Do you know how to order a cup of coffee in a French café? The French have their own distinctive habits and ways of enjoying their café. Let's find out what they are and explore some coffee-related vocabulary. 


French people enjoy prendre le café (having coffee, literally "taking coffee") in un café:


Il y a un café pas loin d'ici.

There's a café not far from here.

Caption 73, Conversations au parc - Ep. 3: C'est à qui ce sac à dos ?

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Après on va prendre le café,

Afterward we go for coffee,

après on va... cuisiner les produits du marché.

afterward we go... cook the products from the market.

Caption 34, Arles - Le marché d'Arles

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On a nice day, people like to drink their coffee sur la terrasse (on the terrace), even if they have to pay a little more for the privilege. In some cafés or restaurants, coffee is often plus cher en terrasse (more expensive on the terrace) than at le comptoir (the counter):


Je prendrai mon café sur la terrasse.

I will take my coffee on the terrace.

Caption 21, Le saviez-vous? - La conjugaison au présent, au passé et au futur

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Le comptoir (the counter) is the place where you can order and pay for your coffee:


Tu t'es levée et t'as payé au comptoir

You stood up and you paid at the counter

Caption 20, Oldelaf - Les mains froides

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But before we pay for our coffee, let's find out how to order it. If you simply ask for un café, you'll get an espresso, typically served in a small china cup with two sugar cubes on the saucer and often with a glass of water. It’s a coffee that is similar to what Sacha serves her boss Barbarella at work, un café noir et sans sucre (black, no sugar):


Apporte-moi un café, noir, sans sucre.

Bring me a coffee, black, no sugar.

Caption 28, Extr@ - Ep. 10 - Annie proteste

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If you want milk in your coffee, you will have to specify. You may opt for un café noisette, espresso topped with a splash of milk, which gives it a rich noisette (hazelnut) color, NOT a hazelnut flavor:


Un café noisette, s’il vous plaît.

A coffee with a splash of milk, please.


If you want cream or a bit more milk in your coffee, you should ask for un café crème or un crème (strictly speaking, this is coffee with a cream foam, though sometimes milk is used):


Un café crème, s'il vous plaît.

A coffee with cream foam, please.


There is also what we call un café au lait (coffee with milk). This usually isn't available in cafés, as it is a breakfast beverage consumed at home. Indeed, many French people start their day with un bol ("a bowl," or a large cup held with both hands) de café au lait. Joanna shows us where she keeps her bols (bowls) and her tasses (cups) in her apartment:


Et ici un petit buffet avec des assiettes,

And here, a small cabinet with plates,

des bols, des verres, des tasses...

bowls, glasses, cups...

Caption 33, Joanna - Son nouvel appartement

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Instead of a café au lait, you may prefer a weaker coffee with extra water, in which case you'll ask for un café allongé (a long/diluted coffee) or un café américain (an americano, or espresso with hot water). Since it's espresso-based, French coffee is stronger and comes in smaller cups than American drip coffee. The coffee roaster in the video below sells all kinds of coffees best suited for making café allongé and américain:


C'est vraiment pour les gens qui aiment... le genre... café américain.

It's really for  people who like... americano-style coffee.

Justement, on dit ça, café très allongé.

Indeed, that's what we say, a very diluted coffee.

Captions 39-40, Joanna - Torréfaction du faubourg

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Other coffee varieties have a very mild flavor better suited for une cafetière à piston (a French press):


Donc c'est un café assez doux

So it's a coffee that is quite mild,

qui est très bien dans la cafetière à piston.

that is very good in a French press.

Caption 33, Joanna - Torréfaction du faubourg

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At the other end of the spectrum, there are much stronger coffees to help you kickstart your day. You can order un café serré (a strong coffee), which comes in a tiny cup. There is even a special word to describe a super strong coffee: un café corsé, or alternately un café bien fort (“very strong coffee”). That is exactly how coffee-addict Oldelaf likes it in his tongue-in-cheek song "Le Café": 


Pour bien commencer / Ma petite journée / Et me réveiller /

To get a good start / To my nice day / And to wake myself up /

Moi j'ai pris un café / Un arabica / Noir et bien corsé

Me, I had a coffee / An arabica / Black and quite strong

Captions 1-6, Oldelaf et Monsieur D - Le Café

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He also occasionally likes un déca (decaf) long as it’s re-caféiné (recaffeinated)!


Je commande un déca / Mais en re-caféiné

I order a decaf / But recaffeinated

Captions 47-48, Oldelaf et Monsieur D - Le Café

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At home, you may prefer instant coffee, un café en poudre (powdered coffee), which you can also use for flavoring desserts:


Mais on peut la parfumer avec des gousses de vanille,

But we can flavor it with vanilla pods,

avec du café en poudre...

with coffee powder...

Captions 45-46, Le Monde - Astuce de chef : comment préparer et décorer des biscuits pour Noël ?

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As you can see, there are many options for different tastes. You can find a more comprehensive list of types of coffees available in France on this page. Here is a summary for you:


un café noir - black coffee (espresso)

un café crème - coffee with cream foam

un café noisette - coffee with a splash of milk

un café allongé - coffee with hot water

un café serré - very strong coffee

un décafféiné/un décadecaf coffee

un café en poudre - instant/powdered coffee


One more thing. Le pourboire (tipping) is not required in France, but it is good form to leave a little something. A few coins on the table will suffice. 


That’s it for our aroma-filled tour. Now you can confidently order une tasse de café (a cup of coffee) in a French café. Enjoy!


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