What is a Caffe Misto? (or Cafe au Lait!)

What is Caffé Misto?

If you’re a regular at Starbucks, you’ve probably heard of Caffé Misto—also known as café au lait (oh LEY) (or even sometimes café con leche (kon LECH-ey)- although that can sometimes refer to a different drink!).  The direct translation from French to English for Café au lait is actually “coffee with milk” and this accurately describes the essence of the Caffé Misto- brewed coffee combined with heated milk. Whichever name tickles your fancy, this drink is amongst the most popular options at any cafe anywhere. 

In some cafes, Caffé Misto more particularly refers to French-pressed or drip-brewed coffee served with heated milk (hot with no froth), yet a Starbucks Caffé Misto is served with frothed milk and a Peet’s café au lait uses steamed milk.

Note: Although the ratios may differ from one barista to another, a café au lait is traditionally made from equal portions of hot milk and strong-brewed coffee.

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What is its Origin? 

According to several sources, our favorite combination of coffee and milk has its roots in China.  Johan Nieuhof, the Dutch ambassador to China, is credited with trying the mix for the first time around 1660.  The presence of coffee with milk in a cafe setting, however, is credited to a Vienna-based Polish shop owner.

Although the history of café au lait (popularly referred to as Café Misto by Starbucks) is not quite clear, it believed that the usage of the name café au lait may have its origins in France during the 17th century.  There are even references to the drink in the letters of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the marquise de Sevigne.

While a café au lait originally involved adding hot milk to brewed coffee, variations have slightly altered the drink over the years. The Starbucks variety of the Caffé Misto we enjoy today using steamed milk is likely a recent development since steam wands were invented in the 20th century.

What is the Flavor Profile of Caffé Misto? 

Caffé Misto has a comfortable, no frills visual appeal. Sure, it’s not as artistic as a latte—but it has an appealing look from the total integration of the coffee and milk.

It’ll have a strong coffee flavor (sometimes bitter, especially if you use a French Press)- but a smooth finish. Steaming the milk makes the lactose (milk sugars) more soluble, yielding a sweeter blend. The texture of the milk is also markedly different than when you just normally add milk to coffee due to the microfoam produced with the steam wand. 

Café Au Lait/Caffé Misto Vs. Café Latte 

Such is the confusion between a café latte and a Caffé Misto that some users regard them as one and the same! This misunderstanding is understandable since the names for both drinks mean “coffee with milk” in different languages. However, take note of the following easy-to-miss differences between a latte and a café au lait.

Brewing Method

The main difference between a Misto and a latte is in the brewing of the coffee. Whereas a latte is made from espresso, a Misto is either French-pressed or drip-brewed. The use of an espresso facilitates the production of crema—a foundational component of latte art. The use of espresso is one of the reasons a latte is typically more expensive than a Misto, despite their outward similarity in appearance.

Calories and Caffeine Content

But what about caffeine content? The comparison below is based on a Grande (16 fl oz) serving at Starbucks:

Caffé MistoCafé Latte
Serving16 fluid ounces16 fluid ounces
Caffeine Content150 mg150 mg
Cholesterol15 mg30 mg

In the case of café au lait, please note that caffeine content varies with the method of brew (drip brewed coffee usually has greater amounts of caffeine!).

Ingredient Ratios

The ratio of the ingredients is one of the most important factors in coffee brewing generally.  For a Caffé Misto, the two major ingredients (coffee and hot milk) are mixed in a 1:1 ratio. On the other hand, a latte has three main ingredients—a rich shot of espresso (1/6), hot milk (4/6), and a thin layer of foamed milk (1/6, and thinner than a cappuccino’s).  This drowns out much of the espresso’s more potent taste—giving the cup its characteristic smooth, mild, and refreshing flavor.

How is Caffé Misto Made? – DIY Recipe


  • Milk (1 part) – preferably whole milk for a rich and authentic taste
  • Strong or medium-strength coffee (1 part)
  • Sweetener (optional)
  • Measuring cups (2)
  • Heating stove
  • A small saucepan


1.  Use a French Press or Drip to brew strong or medium strength coffee. We recommend dark-roasted Brazilian, Java, or Sumatran beans as their notes are complemented well by the milk. It is also worth noting that most users prefer a stronger-than-normal brew due to how much milk will be added to prevent weak flavor.

2.  Pour milk into your saucepan and heat it on the stove until it begins to bubble. Traditionally, a café au lait is served with hot milk (no froth) – but Starbucks uses frothed milk.

3.  Optional: If desired, froth the milk.  This can be done by whisking vigorously, but is better accomplished by using a milk frother or by putting the milk into a french press and plunging up and down rapidly.

4.  Place the milk and coffee in two separate measuring cups and pour them simultaneously into your favorite mug. This allows you to pour equal parts (for the 1:1 ratio) and minimizes the risk of foaming when you stir the coffee.

Credit: HTTPS://coffeegeek.tv/starbucks-secret-menu/

5.  Add a sweetener if desired and serve the freshly prepared Caffé Misto immediately. You can serve it in a wide-brimmed bowl for more traditional flair. This is ideal for coffee enthusiasts who love a hot cup of Joe.

Jay Arr

Jay Arr is passionate about everything coffee. What began as a simple interest in the history, production, and brewing of coffee led him to a job as a barista at a national coffee chain. That’s not where Jay’s story with coffee ends, however. Roasting and brewing day in and out, he continued to gather knowledge about all things coffee.

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