You might be surprised by the differences between coffee in France and in the United States. Besides learning how and when the French enjoy their coffee, you’ll also discover how you can order exactly what you want in a French café.
It seems like all coffee drinkers in the world have a pretty strong opinion about the best way to enjoy coffee.
Some people like a big mug of black coffee in the morning. Others prefer a shot of espresso to make it through the afternoon. And the same goes for coffee culture in France.
It’s hard to walk five minutes without finding a café on a Parisian street corner. This is because of how big of a part coffee plays in French culture.
It’s possible you’ve ever found yourself at a café in France with no idea what to order or wonder how coffee in France is different than it is in the United States.
If so, get ready to learn everything you need to know about the French and their coffee.
When the French Drink Coffee
While it depends on the person, coffee culture isn’t as restricted to the morning time as it is in the United States. Usually, in the U.S. people enjoy their coffee upon waking.
There are definitely some French people who do this. But, there are also a good amount of French people who enjoy their first coffee mid-morning or after a meal.
You might find French people enjoying their first cup of coffee once they get to work. They also often take a coffee at the end of their lunch break.
On a night out, drinking coffee is also popular after dinner. If you go to a French restaurant you will usually be offered coffee or tea at the end of your meal.
I was a little bit surprised when it would be 11 o’clock at night and French people were still enjoying a cup of coffee.
How Coffee Culture is Different in France vs. The United States
Besides the differences in when to drink coffee, there are also differences in the coffee itself. First off, there are not nearly as many coffee choices and drink varieties in France as there are in the U.S. In your basic French café you will usually have five to six coffee options. This includes:
- café court espresso
- café crème or café au lait coffee with milk
- café noisette coffee with hazelnut color
- café viennois coffee with whipped cream
- café allongé diluted espresso
In the U.S., most coffee shops offer added flavors, ingredients, and different milk choices. This past summer an Iced Brown Sugar Oat Milk Shaken Espresso was a popular menu item at Starbucks.
But other flavors like peppermint, chocolate, and pumpkin spice are also commonly added to coffee. At Dunkin’ Donuts, they even offer blueberry coffee.
These flavors and complicated menu items are not something you will commonly find in France. Additionally, non-dairy milk like soy, almond, and oat are rarely an option in classic French cafés.
How to Order Coffee in France
If you know how to order food in French, you’re on your way to ordering coffee. The easiest way to order a coffee in France is to say:
- Est-ce que je peux avoir un café s’il vous plaît ? Can I have a coffee please?
But we’ve included a bunch of helpful phrases below that will help you order a coffee in any situation. Before you do so, there are some cultural things to remember when ordering coffee in France.
Firstly, the French aren’t really as comfortable with creating things that aren’t on the menu. This means that asking for something to be removed from your coffee or added to it (besides cow’s milk) might not always be appreciated.
Also, at more casual cafes you can often seat yourself without talking to a server. If you’d like to be on the safe side you can always ask before you sit.
Finally, coffee is almost always enjoyed while sitting down. It’s pretty rare to see a French person drinking coffee on the go so most classic cafés likely won’t have to-go cups.
There is so much to learn about the French coffee culture, but the best way to discover what you like best is to give it a try yourself.
If you don’t have a trip to France in the near future, try finding a French style café near you or going to a coffee shop with a friend and only speaking French while you’re there.
Useful phrases for ordering a coffee
- Un café s’il vous plaît. A coffee, please.
- Est-ce que vous voulez boire un café? Do you want to drink a coffee?
- Je ne bois pas le café. I don’t drink coffee.
- J’ai envie d’aller boire un café. I want to go drink a coffee.
- Je voudrais un café, s’il vous plaît. I’d like a coffee, please.
- Non, merci. Pas de sucre. No thanks, no sugar.
- Un sucre, s’il vous plaît. One sugar, please.
- Du sucre et du lait, s’il vous plaît. Some sugar and milk, please.
- Le café ici est délicieux! The coffee here is delicious.
French coffee vocabulary – complete list
- la torréfaction du café coffee roasting
- le café allongé slightly diluted espresso
- le café américain filtered coffee/americano
- le café aribaca Aribaca coffee
- le café au lait café au lait
- le café crème coffee with cream
- le café décaféiné decaffeinated coffee
- le café filtre filter/drip coffee
- le café glacé iced coffee
- le café instané instant coffee
- le café irelandais irish coffee
- le café liégeois Liegeois coffee
- le café noir black coffee
- le café noisette strong espresso with milk
- le café turc Turkish coffee
- le cappuccino cappuccino
- le petit noir strong espresso, no milk
- le torréfacteur à café coffee roaster
- les grains de café coffee beans
- les marcs de café coffee grounds
- un café coffeehouse
- un cafetière à piston French press
- un moulin à café coffee mill/grinder
- une cafetière coffee pot
- une machine à café coffee/espresso machine/maker
- une tasse de café cup of coffee