Before you order a coffee in France, take the time to make sure that you're sure what you're ordering. The late writer Samuel Beckett was an Irishman who knew his way around a Parisian coffee menu blindfolded, but it may not be as straightforward as you might think.
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when ordering a coffee in Ireland was simple. You just said “coffee” and specified whether you wanted it in a cup or a mug and you were duly given a cup or a mug of instant ersatz with milk.
Nowadays, the expectation of the client is that he or she is familiar with the menu of Italian phrases for the different options available. What we used to consider a normal mug-sized cup of coffee has now become an americano. If you want it stronger like a continental, then you’ll be looking for an espresso or even a double-espresso. The assumption now is that you don’t want milk, so if you do, then you’d better ask for a latte, and if you want a more fancy white coffee, then you’ll have fun saying the word cappuccino.
When you go to France, you’ll find that one of the big culture shocks in ordering coffee is that they don’t use Italian terminology. Here, it’s all in French and, before you to order a coffee, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the right words so that you get what you came for.
Un café – This is a small black coffee that we in Ireland refer to as an espresso.
Un expresso – This is the same as un café. Note the spelling: it’s expresso with an “x”, not espresso, which is Italian.
Un café au lait – A coffee with milk in it; steamed and sometimes on the side in a separate jug.
Un Café Décafféiné – Not really a coffee, as it doesn’t have caffeine in it, but the very occasional place will sell it to the very occasional customer.
Un Café Noisette – Just like an expresso but with a dash of cream in it. Despite the name, there is actually no hazelnut in it. At all.
Un Café Crème – Coffee in a large cup with some warm cream. Mmmmm.