Cafe au lait is a French term which means “coffee on milk.” It is used to refer to a beverage made with strong, fresh coffee and hot milk. Many former French colonies offer this drink as a staple accompaniment to breakfast, as do regions with large French populations. The beverage should not be confused with a latte, a drink made with espresso, not strong coffee. This can lead to confusion in a coffeehouse especially, so do not be afraid to be specific about what you are asking for.
To make cafe au lait, milk is scalded and poured into a cup simultaneously with coffee. Because the two are poured together, rather than layered, the resulting drink is thoroughly mixed. It can be drunk plain or sweetened, depending on personal taste. In some regions, chicory is mixed with the coffee beans for a characteristic bitter bite. This is especially common in Louisiana.
Many nations have a variation of the cafe au lait, which is in an intermediate zone between brewed black coffee and blended coffee drinks. All of the variations mix fresh coffee with hot milk, and the name usually indicates this. In Germany, for example, it is known as Milchkaffee, or “milk coffee.” Some coffee shops refer to the beverage as a misto, or blend.
The characteristic rich brown color of cafe au lait is also used to refer to complexion. Many people of mixed race have creamy brown skin hinting at their varied ancestry. In dermatology, the term is used to refer to a particular type of birthmark. While these spots can be harmless, they can also indicate that someone is at risk for neurofibromatosis, a disease characterized by the formation of numerous small tumors throughout the body and on the bone.
To make cafe au lait at home, brew a pot of strong dark coffee. While the coffee is brewing, scald milk for the beverage. If you have a home milk steamer, you can use that. Otherwise, use a heavy saucepan on medium-high heat to bring the milk to a frothy almost boil. Remove the milk from the heat and pour it into a generously sized cup, along with a stream of coffee. You may want to place a sweetener at the bottom of the cup before you begin. The coffee can be consumed plain, or garnished with mint or lemon for an unusual flavor. It is also a superb accompaniment to breakfast pastries such as croissants.