Café Like a Parisian (Yes, It's a Verb)

July 31, 2018

I’ve had a home in Paris for 10 years, which means I’ve had the chance to frequent a lot of cafés, and here’s something I’ve noticed: Tourists peruse drink menus; locals do not.

Like so many things in France, there seems to exist an unwritten code of café drinks that varies by season, temperature, and time of day. Most cafés don’t even list these beverages on a menu. Instead, much like ordering beer at a pub, or a cup of coffee at a diner, they’re a cultural expectation.

Obviously, coffee and wine are café staples, and I’ve sipped my fair share of both. But over the years I’ve noticed a parade of other drinks—hot, cold, alcoholic, or not—ordered by all ages with brevity and insouciance. Curious, I sat down with my friend Alain Miquel, a Parisian café-owner, to learn more.

For over 30 years, Alain and his brother, Didier, have worked the bar at their café, Le Mistral, which their parents started in 1958. From the morning’s first coffee to the evening’s last Calvados, and everything in between, Alain has served it all. Today he describes the most popular café drinks and how to order them.


If you’re a café regular, you don’t even have to speak: You need only appear and your ideal coffee will be set before you. “You know your customers’ preferences like an haute couture seamstress,” says Alain. For the rest of us, here is what to ask for.

Café/Café Express/Café Normal: A shot of coffee, akin to an espresso. It’s also called “un petit café,” but, as Alain says, to sound like a true Parisian, lightly suppress the first syllable, so that it becomes “p’tit café.”

Café Noisette: A shot of coffee with a dash of foamed milk, similar to a macchiato.

Café Serré: The strongest shot of coffee, made with very little water.

Café Trois-Quart: A lighter coffee, the cup is filled to the three-quarter mark.

Café Allongé: The weakest coffee, water is run through the grounds twice. Also called café américain.

No Need to Go to Paris For This One

Petit Crème, Grand Crème: A shot of coffee with lots of steamed milk, usually served in an oversized cup or bowl. Tourists sometimes call it “café au lait.” Whether you order a small (petit) or large (grand) depends on your level of jet lag. Note: This is drunk for breakfast, and French people rarely order it after noon. “Sure, it happens,” says Alain. “But in the morning we’re making fifty of them. In the afternoon, we make one.”

Décaféiné: Add this word to the end of any of the above coffee drinks to make it decaf. You can also abbreviate to “déca.”

Drinks for Sunny Days

There exists an array of candy-colored drinks that appear with hot, sunny days. Sipped most often on an outdoor terrasse by patrons of any age or gender, their bright colors rely on an array of sugary syrups that are beloved in France. Note: Cold drinks are usually served chilled without ice—or, if you insist, you’ll receive only one or two cubes. “Don’t drink things that are very cold,” warns Alain. “You’ll get a stomach ache.”

Monaco: Served in a pilsner glass, this hot pink drink combines light beer, lemon soda (like Sprite), and a shot of grenadine syrup.

Tango: Light beer with grenadine syrup.

Panaché: Half beer, half lemon soda.

Valse: Light beer with mint syrup.

Diabolo: A nonalcoholic drink of lemon soda and the syrup of your choice. To order, combine the word “diabolo” with your preferred flavor; for example, “diabolo menthe” would be lemon soda and mint syrup. Standard syrups include blackcurrant (cassis), lemon (citron), strawberry (fraise), mint (menthe), and grenadine.

Vittel Menthe: Mineral water with mint syrup. Although the name references the brand, Vittel, any type of bottled still water may be served. As with the diabolo, you can change the syrup based on your preference, although for some reason, mint remains the most popular for this drink.

L’Indienne: Orange soda (usually Orangina) and grenadine syrup.

Lait Fraise: Cold milk and strawberry syrup. There is also lait menthe: cold milk and mint syrup.

Citron pressé: A half-filled glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice accompanied by a carafe of tap water and handful of sugar packets, so that you may stir in the desired amounts yourself. There’s also orange pressé, which is, as the name implies, orange juice. Most people drink the orange juice and then enjoy a second glass of orange-flavored tap water with the remnants.

Drinks for cold afternoons

Paris winters are rainy and grey. These hot drinks help ward off the chill.

Citron Pressé Chaud: Like a regular citron pressé (see above), but with hot water replacing the cold. Sometimes a spoonful of honey is added. “It’s the best for sore throats,” says Alain. “Bistro medicine!”

Chocolat Chaud: Also called chocolat au lait, this is one of the few beverages enjoyed in the morning and afternoon.

Tisane: The word means herbal tea and popular varieties include verbena (verveine), mint (menthe), and tilleul (made from the flowers of the lime or linden tree).


Many cafés have wine lists featuring a range of bottles. But if you just want to order a casual glass to enjoy with a friend, or sip before dinner, here’s what to ask for.

Kir: Pink in color, this combines white wine and crème de cassis, a sweet, dark red, sticky liqueur made from blackcurrants.

Kir Bourguignon: Red wine mixed with crème de cassis. As the name indicates, Burgundy wine was traditionally used, but these days it’s more likely Côtes du Rhône.

Ballon de Rouge, Ballon de Blanc: A very French way to order a glass of red or white, this will get you a regular glass of wine. It’s akin to ordering the house wine—except you’re in France, so the house wine actually tastes good. Alain notes that the quantity of “un ballon is 14 centiliters,” or a little more than 4.5 ounces (a standard glass of wine is 5 ounces).

What’s your favorite drink to order at a Paris café? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Hollis Ramsey
    Hollis Ramsey
  • Pegeen
  • Lynn
  • Smaug
  • Susan
A proud Southern California native, Ann currently lives in Paris and Washington DC. Ann's cookbook, Instantly French, is the first French cookbook for the electric pressure cooker. Her new novel, Jacqueline in Paris, will be published in Fall 2022.


Hollis R. August 5, 2018
i adore Pernod avec de l'eau, sitting outdoors at a little table, people-watching and breathing the Parisian air, soaking in the Parisian sunlight turning to dusk. at times like that, i don't believe in magic; i believe in Paris.
Pegeen August 2, 2018
Mon dieu! Someone pass around les ballons des blancs so everyone can relaxez-vous.

I enjoyed the article.
Lynn August 1, 2018
How insensitive to the beautiful French language, and how insensitive to publish an article by an American in Paris when no one in France can access your website.
Susan August 1, 2018
Lynn, I’m just curious why no one in France would be able to access Ann’s website or Food52? If one simply touches on listed above it will take you to Ann’s page.
One can also view from the perspective of being sensitive to the French language by ordering these drinks in the French language while visiting. That in and of itself would demonstrate a sign of respect for the French language or any foreign language...even when mistakes would be made.

Kind regards,

Lynn August 1, 2018
Are you not aware that European residents can no longer access Food52? And I was referring to using "café" as a verb,not using the terms referred to in the article. When I am in France, two months per year, I always order a noisette after my meal, but I cringe at giving "café" the gift treatment. It is a noun, not a verb.
Susan August 1, 2018
Hi Lynn, Thank you for your reply. I was not aware, however I do see now that it has to do with the new privacy act and is explained as a temporary situation to protect data privacy until a new solution is in place.
Thank you for your explanation on "café" being used as a verb.

Kind regards,

Lynn August 1, 2018
Hi, Susan, and thank YOU for listening. I realise that this has to do with the European regulations, but a couple of months have passed, and all that is really necessary is asking our permission to access our private data (something that every other website has managed to easily implement). We in Europe would really appreciate being able to access our saved recipes, and we would also appreciate being kept informed of progress. As it is, I use a VPN once in a while, which I really should not have to do: www stands for worldwideweb, after all. 😕
Susan August 1, 2018
It has to be very frustrating....I can understand how you must feel. I used to live in The Netherlands for 7 years and would very much have enjoyed the connection to the US via a resource like Food52. I had stacks and stacks of cooking magazines back then! LOL! I hope this has a resolution soon as I am sure this privacy act has also hurt their readership.
Cyd L. August 5, 2018
Absolutely agree.
Smaug July 31, 2018
The mere fact that a grotesque misuse of language is gaining currency is not an excuse for promoting it's use.
Nikkitha B. August 1, 2018
Hi Smaug—I didn't mean to imply that "cafe" is a verb in French, just that it's a verb in the context of the headline. I'm sure there are worse, more grotesque ways to misuse language :). Nevertheless, thanks for bringing this to my attention, as I can see how it can be confusing.
Smaug August 1, 2018
It's not a verb in French or English, but if it starts appearing in print it will start being used that way. In today's world these things spread like wildfire over the internet- things that in past times would have at worst become local slang are overnight a part of the language, and our words become ever weaker as parts of speech are abandoned and meanings become ever vaguer. Certainly there are worse examples- for instance this site's insistence on using the word "genius" in ever more far flung applications or the widespread use of the word "shortening" to mean Crisco but it's a battle being fought on many fronts and today's editors, to the extent that they exist at all, seem to have lost all notion that it is part of their mission to defend the language.
Hollis R. August 5, 2018
oh, Smaug -- very little upsets me as much as using "it's" when "its" is the proper word. especially when one is complaining about word usage. just saying.
Smaug August 5, 2018
The internet must be a real horror for you. In this case "it's" is a contraction of it and is, thus the apostrophe.
Hollis R. August 5, 2018
it's not a horror so much as an interminable bed of nails. you're correct about the apostrophic usage but incorrect in your usage in the sentence at issue. "its use" is correct; adding the apostrophe, as you did, makes it "it is use" and thus wrong wrong wrong. try thinking of it that way in future.
Smaug August 5, 2018
I'm not sure what sentence you're referring to, but if you've located a typo somewhere and it has caused you pain, you have my sympathy- I dislike scrolling back through these message boxes in search of errors, and seldom do. If I may infer from your post that these sort of things disturb you more that, say, man's inhumanity to man or global warming, perhaps you're fortunate. However, I might remind you that there is no real authority on what is or is not correct in any language but there are people who have greater than usual influence on others' usage- which is why I feel that it's important for professional writers to take some responsibility for how they use words. Hipsterism is a slippery slope- one day you're innocently prattling about googling googol, next thing you know there's a guy in a man bun calling his car a "bad mama jama".
Smaug August 5, 2018
ps You missed a capital Y there- perhaps you share my distaste?
Hollis R. August 5, 2018
"The mere fact that a grotesque misuse of language is gaining currency is not an excuse for promoting it's use." that was the sentence. "... an excuse for promoting it is use" would be the sentence without the optional apostrophe. i don't think it was a typo; i think you intentionally inserted the apostrophe and are now doubling down, to the point of inserting little ad hominems as to how trivial i must be in the face of "man's inhumanity to man or global warming," e.g. i'm used to such throwaway comments; they don't bother me so much as they amuse me.

as far as authority, the word “its” is the possessive form of the pronoun “it,” whereas the word “it's” is a contraction for the words “it is.” as far as googling Google -- that one really does amuse me, because although you spelled the mathematical term "googol" correctly, the creators of the search engine misspelled it as "Google" when they established the company; therefore, by spelling it technically correctly, you spelled it incorrectly in the world of Social Media.

and as to missing a capital? i guess you haven't noticed that i don't capitalize at all, unless it be for a proper name or if i wish to emphasize something by ALL-CAPPING it. at my age, and with my level of knowledge and experience in the trade, i've earned the right to break some of the more trivial rules.

in spite of our disagreement -- or perhaps because of the civil manner in which we've carried it out -- it would be a pleasure to share one of those small al fresco seating arrangements at a Parisian cafe with you, me with my Pernod and you with whatever you prefer, at that magic hour when the light changes, and continue our disputation.

p.s. i love bestowing nicknames. here are two of my favorites:

1/ my beloved cat, Pooh, refused to eat dry cat food indoors; he'd only eat it outdoors; hence, i'd call him Al Fresco.

2/ Rudy Giuliani, who's so thrilled to be included in Trump's reindeer games, has become such a forlorn, pathetic joke of a public figure that i've taken to referring to him as "poor Yorick" -- alas ...
Smaug August 5, 2018
You seem to be involved in a fight of some sort, but I assure you that it's not with me.
Hollis R. August 5, 2018
so you reject my peace pipe, o Smaug. a fight? no. if we were truly in a fight, you'd know it -- there'd be no "seem to be" in the equation.
Smaug August 6, 2018
Alright, you've pointed out a minor idiomatic spelling that few have had occasion to think about and fewer to care. You've told us how clever you are. You've told us what a badass you are. Will there be anything else?