Flat White vs. Café Au Lait: Is One Supreme?

Flat White vs Cafe Au Lait

Each day, approximately 2.25 billion cups of coffee are guzzled down all over the world. From one of the earliest forms made from the whole coffee fruit in 1000 A.D. to today, this caffeinated beverage has come a long way in terms of preparation, flavor, and appearance. 

When you enter a coffee shop, the choices on the menu can seem daunting, especially if you are new to the coffee scene. From lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos, to red eyes and doppios, the possibilities seem endless, and those are just the beginning. Two coffee beverages that often leave customers scratching their heads are the flat white and café au lait. While they may appear similar and contain the same ingredients, they are exceedingly different from one another in terms of size, strength, caffeine, and taste.

Flat White

Simply stated, the flat white is an espresso beverage that is topped with steamed milk. Tiny white bubbles lay flat on the top of this beverage, creating a glossy appearance and a velvety consistency.

Commonly, this beverage is between 3 and 4 oz and consists of a 1 oz espresso shot and 2 oz of steamed milk, or microfoam. The layer of steamed milk is approximately ¼ of an inch thick, which is thin when compared to other coffee beverages topped with steamed milk.

Taste & Caffeine Content

Since the layer of steamed milk is delicate, this beverage has a strong and rich espresso taste. The velvety and sweet-tasting steamed milk offers an extra layer of silky goodness. 

There are many factors that can affect how much caffeine is present in a shot of espresso. Everything from the type of coffee beans being used and how they were roasted, to preparation methods of the drink itself can impact the caffeine content. That being said, a typical flat white with one shot of espresso can contain anywhere from 29 to 100 mg of caffeine, averaging closer to 75 mg.

Pros & Cons

Given that the top layer of microfoam is thin, other dairy alternatives can be used if someone has dairy sensitivities. Since flat white contains espresso, the beverage is also believed to be beneficial for:

  • Boosting concentration and mood
  • Regulating digestion
  • Potential anti-inflammatory properties

Although there are some positives associated with this beverage, there are also a few downsides. For instance, the calorie content of this beverage is higher than others, averaging around 46 calories. This beverage is also small if you are looking for something to sip on and enjoy throughout your morning.

Café Au Lait

This hot coffee beverage, which originated in France, is made by mixing equal parts of fresh strong coffee and steamed milk. Although there is no set size for this beverage, many coffee shops offer them in cups ranging from 8 oz to 20 oz.

There are many takes on this popular beverage and different variations can be found worldwide. In Europe, for example, equal parts steamed milk and espresso are mixed to create this beverage. They also sometimes top it off with a small amount of foam. In the U.S., café au lait is created by mixing equal parts steamed milk and strong coffee.

Taste & Caffeine Content

This beverage is known for having a strong coffee taste. Since the milk is heated, this process allows it to caramelize slightly, adding a slight sweetness to this creamy coffee beverage. Depending on the style, if the café au lait is topped with foam, it presents an interesting and smooth texture.

When it comes to caffeine content, this beverage can range depending on the type of coffee used, the method used to brew the coffee, and how big of a cup is being consumed. Generally speaking, an 8 oz serving can have somewhere between 60 to 90 mg of caffeine.

Pros & Cons

The coffee beverage is easy to make, relatively inexpensive, and comes in different sizes. It also contains a fair amount of milk, a food source that is rich in vitamins and provides support for healthy bones. Coffee, in moderation, is said to be beneficial in many areas including:

  • Boosting energy levels and mood
  • Promoting healthy weight management
  • Heart health

Some potential risks in consuming café au lait, especially in large amounts, include potential sleep troubles, jitters, and digestive issues. The calorie count of this beverage is also higher than black coffee. One serving of café au lait, without extra sweeteners or additives, is somewhere between 100 calories and 130 calories. 

Which is Supreme?

When comparing the two beverages, both contain roughly the same caffeine content. The flat white falls close to 75 mg of caffeine and café au lait is somewhere between 60 and 90 mg. When looking at the calories, the flat has half the calories that café au lait does.

Although the café au lait can be purchased in larger quantities, which would allow it to be sipped on and enjoyed for longer, the flat white can give you the same amount of caffeine for fewer calories. In my mind, if you are drinking coffee beverages strictly for energy and mood boost alone, the flat white would be the best choice.

If you are looking for a delicious and strong coffee beverage to savor, and you are not worried about the nutritional values, café au lait is a better choice as it can be purchased in larger sizes. This would allow you to extend the pleasurable drinking experience.

Final Thoughts

Flat white and café au lait are two coffee beverages that can be purchased at your local coffee shop or made at home. Both are prepared by mixing coffee with milk and both offer distinct amounts of caffeine. Each also contains more calories when compared to black coffee. 

One of the things that makes them unique is the sizes that they each come in. Flat white is topped with steamed milk to create a glossy appearance and velvety texture. Café au lait, although not always topped with foam, can be customized to include it. 

While flat white has a strong espresso taste, café au lait has a strong coffee taste. This is why they are two separate drinks on a coffee menu- they each have distinct characteristics to set them apart from the rest of the coffee beverages in today’s world.