Coffee lovers around the world constantly debate whether café au lait or flat white is better. But what exactly sets these two beverages apart?

Quick Answer: What is the difference between a café au lait and a flat white?

The main difference between a café au lait and a flat white is the coffee and the type of milk used. A café au lait is made with equal parts brewed coffee and steamed milk, while a flat white uses espresso shots and steamed microfoam milk.

Café Au Lait vs. Flat White: How Do These Drinks Differ?

In this article, it’s time to explore the differences in preparation methods, taste profiles, and caffeine levels of a café au lait vs. flat white to settle once and for all—which one comes out on top.

Café au lait vs. flat white, how do they differ?

Before getting into all of the differences between a café au lait and a flat white, you can have a look at the overview I’ve made below:

Comparison:Café au lait:Flat white:
Flavor notesA robust and smooth flavorSmooth with a slight bitterness
Coffee used?1/2 cup (0.12 l) of brewed coffeeTwo espresso shots
Milk?Yes, 1/2 cup (0.12 l)Yes, 1/2 cup (0.12 l)
Coffee roastAll coffee roastsUsually, a dark roast
Caffeine content85mg to 110mg of caffeine136mg of caffeine
Number of calories76 calories76 calories
Topping?No toppingLight microfoam topping

As you can see from the overview above, these delicious coffees have quite a few differences.

Now that you have an idea about the differences, it’s time to get into detail about each of them below:

What is the flavor difference between these drinks?

Café au lait means “coffee with milk” in French. This drink originated in France, where it was traditionally made with dark roasted coffee, giving it a strong and robust flavor.

On the other hand, a flat white consists of two shots of espresso topped with microfoam (steamed milk with small bubbles) to create a velvety texture:

Homemade flat white.

Unlike the equal ratio of coffee to milk in a café au lait, flat whites emphasize the espresso shots, resulting in a stronger coffee flavor than in most café au laits.

The different ratios used result in different taste profiles for these two drinks.

Café au laits tend to have a smoother mouthfeel due to its higher ratio of steamed milk, while flat whites are known for their strong espresso flavor complemented by velvety textured foam.

Which is stronger? A café au lait or a flat white?

A flat white tends to have a stronger coffee flavor compared to a café au lait because it is made with two espresso shots, which have a strong flavor.

A café au lait is typically made with equal parts strong brewed coffee and steamed milk:

A homemade café au lait.

This means that the drink’s strength will depend on how strong the coffee used to make it was brewed, but it is sweeter and milkier than a flat white.

The ratios of these drinks can differ, depending on the coffee shop you like to order coffee from or when making them at home.

However, a flat white will have the most punchy flavor because the double espresso is added to the milk.

Is there a difference in milk preparation?

Another factor contributing to the flavor difference is the steaming technique used for each drink.

For a café au lait, the milk is usually heated in a saucepan on low heat until it becomes hot but not boiling before being mixed with the coffee.

Scalded milk.

Meanwhile, flat whites use microfoam – velvety smooth textured milk – which gives it a smoother and creamier taste.

You might already know which of these drinks will fit you best, along with the rest of the differences.

If you’re not quite sure yet, read along for a few more key differences:

How many calories are in a café au lait vs. flat white?

The number of calories in a café au lait and a flat white can vary depending on the specific recipe and ingredients used.

However, they use the same amount of milk for a serving, so they are equal in calories.

To make things easy for you, you can have a look at the overview of the most popular types of milk you can order.

As both coffees use the same amount of milk, 1/2 cup (0.12 l) for a serving, you can quickly scan for your favorite milk below:

Type of milk used:Number of calories in the coffee:
Whole milk76 calories
2% fat milk61 calories
Nonfat milk43 calories
Oat milk65 calories
Almond milk20 calories
Soy milk64 calories

Is there a difference in caffeine?

There is quite a difference in the amount of caffeine between a café au lait and flat white:

  • Depending on the coffee used, a café au lait contains between 85 and 110mg of caffeine per serving.
  • On the other hand, a flat white has 136mg of caffeine based on two shots of espresso.

You can brew a café au lait with the coffee you prefer, and the amount of caffeine will differ.

Single and doppio espresso next to each other.

When comparing brewed coffee, pour over coffee has the lowest caffeine per serving, coming in at 170mg per cup (0.24 l).

On the other hand, French press coffee has the highest caffeine per serving, coming in at 220mg of caffeine per 8-ounce cup. (source)

Because the café au lait uses 1/2 cup of brewed coffee, the amount of caffeine will be lower than the abovementioned numbers.

Which is better, a café au lait or flat white?

So which one is better? It ultimately comes down to personal taste. If you can’t decide which would better suit you, I suggest the following:

  • If you enjoy a smoother and sweeter taste, you may prefer the café au lait.
  • However, if you prefer a bolder and stronger flavor emphasizing the velvety texture, the flat white may be your preferred choice.
A side-by-side comparison between a café au lait and a flat white.
Café au lait on the left. Flat white on the right

I prefer a flat white because of its strong flavor and smooth texture. Both drinks offer unique flavors and textures worth trying at least once!

Related coffee comparison articles

Are you wondering how the café au lait and flat white compare to other coffees?

Great! Check out the articles below for more in-depth coffee comparisons:

And to compare more coffees, visit the coffee comparison hub!


Ultimately, the choice between these two drinks comes down to personal preference.

Some may enjoy the boldness of a café au lait, while others may prefer the refined nuances of a flat white.

Whichever you choose, one thing is for sure – both of these coffee beverages are delicious in their own unique ways.

So next time you visit your favorite café or make coffee at home, experiment with these drinks and see which one becomes your new favorite!

Espresso-based recipes to try

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