How to Order Coffee in French (and Many Other Café Treats)
Learning how to order food and drinks in French is practically essential if you’re planning on taking a trip to France.
Café means “coffee” in French, but you’ll need to know more than just that word if you’re planning on trying the range of treats on offer in French coffee shops.
On Parisian Sunday mornings, my friends and I would often sit on the terrace of a café near the Marché d’Aligre sipping espressos and noshing on croissants.
How, you’re wondering, can you also enjoy such lovely Sunday mornings in France?
Here’s a comprehensive guide to ordering food and drinks in French.
- Sitting or standing in French cafés
- How to order coffee and drinks in French
- How to order pastries in France
- So you want un breakfast américain?
- Le brunch in France
- French morning traditions
- And one more thing...
Sitting or standing in French cafés
The first choice you have when entering a typical French bar or café is whether you want to stand at the bar for your espresso and croissant, take a seat inside, or sit outside on the terrace. (If it’s chilly out, many Parisian cafés have heat lamps.)
This is not Starbucks, dear Americans; do not order at the bar and then think you can take your coffee and go sit somewhere. The prices are quite different depending on your selection. Standing at the bar is the cheapest option, while the most expensive (usually your drinks cost about 50% more) is to sit on the terrace. Here’s what the options are called:
au comptoir / au bar — at the counter/at the bar
(assis) à l’intérieur — (seated) inside
(assis) à l’extérieur / en terrasse — (seated) outside/on the terrace
There is (now, thankfully) no smoking inside restaurants and bars in France.
How to order coffee and drinks in French
Your next task is to order your drinks. Your breakfast options in France will typically include:
un café — a coffee; in France, this means an espresso
un expresso — also an espresso; if you look foreign, waiters (especially in touristy areas) may use this word to clarify that that’s what you should expect
un café au lait — a coffee with milk
un café latte — a coffee with a little steamed milk
un macchiato — steamed milk with a little coffee
un café allongé — a longer espresso
un café court / café serré — a short espresso; French espresso usually isn’t any good, but if you’re in a place that takes coffee seriously, this is what you’ll want to order for an intense, Italian-like experience
un café filtre / café américain — brewed coffee/black coffee, but you can’t actually order this in most places in France; you will instead usually be served diluted espresso (un café allongé)
un cappuccino — coffee with hot milk and steamed milk
un café crème — a cream coffee
un mocha — a mocha
un frappé — a frappé
un chocolat chaud — a hot chocolate
un smoothie — a smoothie
un lait frappé — a milkshake
un verre de lait — a glass of milk
un thé — a tea
un thé noir — a black tea
un thé vert — a green tea
un thé à la menthe — a mint tea
un thé à la camomille — a chamomile tea
une infusion de fruits — a fruit infusion
une infusion — an infusion (i.e., caffeine-free)
un jus de fruits — a fruit juice
un jus d’orange — an orange juice
un jus de pamplemousse — a grapefruit juice
un jus d’apricôt — an apricot juice
un jus de pomme — an apple juice
un jus de poire — a pear juice
un café-rhum — a coffee with rum
une limonade — a lemonade
Simply stating the name of the thing you want is the most common way to order. If you want to be extra polite, you can tack on a s’il vous plaît (please) at the end. A few other phrases to know are:
Je prends… — I’ll take…
merci — thank you
sans sucre — without sugar
How to order pastries in France
Le petit déjeuner (breakfast) in France is usually coffee and a croissant if you’re in a bar, although at home many French people have been converted to American cereals, which saves a morning trip down to the bakery.
Even the simplest dive bars will have a basket of croissants out on the bar in the morning, and possibly chocolate croissants.
un croissant — a croissant
un pain au chocolat / chocolatine — a chocolate croissant; chocolatine is the word used in the South
If you go to a bakery in the morning, you’ll have more options to order from:
une baguette — a long loaf of bread
un pain complet — a loaf of whole grain bread
une part de flan — a slice of flan
un canelé — a tiny cake with a custard center
une tartelette aux framboises — a small raspberry tart
un pain aux raisins — a sweet raisin roll
une brioche — a very light, sweet bread made with eggs and butter
un éclair au chocolat — a chocolate éclair (pastry with cream filling)
un chausson aux pommes — an apple pastry/tart
un croissant aux amandes — a very sweet almond croissant
une tarte aux fruits — a fruit tart
un chausson aux pommes — an apple turnover (a pastry filled with apples)
une madeleine — a madeleine (small sponge cakes)
une chaussons aux cerises — a cherry turnover
un macaron — a macaron (meringue sandwich treat)
un flan — a custard tart
un pain perdu — French toast (fried bread soaked in eggs and milk/cream)
un mille-feuille — a mille-feuille (puff pastry dessert)
un gâteau au chocolat — a chocolate cake
un pain d’épices — a gingerbread
une tarte Tatin — a Tarte Tatin (pastry with caramelized fruit)
un fraisier — a strawberry cake
un gâteau basque — a Basque cake (cake filled with cream and black cherry jam)
Some cafés offer a few additional options for hungrier patrons:
une omelette — an omelette
un croque-monsieur — a grilled ham and cheese sandwich
un croque-madame — a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top
un quiche — a quiche
un sandwich au jambon — a ham sandwich
un sandwich au fromage — a cheese sandwich
un sandwich au poulet — a chicken sandwich
un sandwich végétarien — a vegetarian sandwich (a sandwich without meat)
un panini — a panini
un burger — a burger
So you want un breakfast américain?
Really? Why are you even in France?
But sure, it’s true, sometimes one misses home. Cafés in touristy areas in France have learned to cater to Anglos, so you may be able to order the following in some places. There are also a few American-style diners cropping up, such as the famous Breakfast in America.
If you want to attempt to order an American breakfast, you can ask for the following:
deux œufs — two eggs
un œuf à la coque — soft-boiled egg
des œufs brouillés — scrambled eggs
avec bacon — with bacon
avec saucisse — with sausage
un bagel — a bagel
pommes de terre sautées — fried potatoes
crêpes américaines — pancakes. French crèpes are much lighter and thinner—and oh so much better, especially in Brittany
un yaourt — yogurt
un bol de céréales — a bowl of cereal
Le brunch in France
It’s difficult to stretch the typical French breakfast into a 20-25 euro affair, but some brave French cafés have attempted to take up the New York tradition. This usually means some sort of set menu with the bread and pastry options, coffee and French orange juice, plus:
des confitures — jams
du jambon — some ham
du fromage — some cheese
un œuf à la coque — a soft-boiled egg
une salade de fruits — a fruit salad
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French morning traditions
There are a couple more morning traditions to know about in France.
One is the soupe à l’oignon (onion soup); you may have thought of this as fancy food, but it’s really quite a simple dish. If a house party is still rocking, making onion soup in the wee hours of the morning is the traditional French way to keep things going just a little longer.
Also, if a gentleman has had a nice time with a new lady friend, it’s customary for him to say this the next morning:
Je cherche les croissants — I’ll fetch the croissants
The lady can thus stay comfortably in bed, or else scour the apartment for evidence of the gentleman’s ex, as per her wishes.
This information and vocabulary should get your day off to an excellent start in France, whatever your needs for caffeine and sustenance.
I’m not going to tell you where the best breakfast spot is in Paris (because, you know, we can’t have just anyone…), but I will say that if you bike around the Marché d’Aligre until you wipe out, that café in front of you may well serve an excellent croque-monsieur.
And if you’re planning on grabbing a coffee in another part of the world, you can check out our guides on how to order coffee in Italian, Chinese, Spanish and German.
And one more thing...
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