I consider myself a coffee connoisseur. I like strong coffee. So the notion of drinking coffee with so much milk is, well, unsettling. And the bowl, what is up with the bowl? Who drinks coffee from a bowl? The French do, that‚Äôs who!
Well, ok, not all the time. It depends on who and where you are. So, one of the first things I felt I had to experience for myself while in Paris was this caf√© au lait. As luck would have it, my hotel offered petit dejeuner (breakfast) every morning for no extra charge. It was served in a cozy little room, overlooking a pretty little square called the Place Dauphine. My first morning, the jovial housekeeper/waitress delivered a typical French breakfast- a caf√© au lait and a small baguette with jam. To my chagrin, my cafe au lait was served in acup, complete with handle ‚Äì not a bowl. It was the color of creamy caramel. The steamed, frothy milk floated like clouds on top. The taste was so smooooooth. For the rest of the trip I enjoyed a caf√© au lait every morning. I even purchased two white caf√© au lait bowls in the Marais section of Paris and could not wait to recreate my version when I returned home.
Fast forward to my return home. I unwrapped my shiny white bowls and set out to make my first caf√© au lait. But, I do not own an espresso machine. In a perfect world everyone would own a deluxe, state of the art, Francis Francis espresso machine‚Ä¶..in cherry red. This machine is the cr√®me de la cr√®me of espresso machines. My dream machine. It can make espresso, cappuccino, caf√© au lait and more. It‚Äôs gotta be good if Giada DeLaurentiis has one on the kitchen counter of her set of Everyday Italian. Just one catch – they cost about $650! I can get a round trip ticket back to Paris for that! I could be sitting at Caf√© Flore, listening to the hot air rush thru the steam tube as my milk froths up for less than $650.I have to go back to the ‚Äòold-fashioned‚Äô way of making one, with regular run of the mill kitchen equipment. This recipe is for one serving. You will need:
- french press, coffee grinder, frother
- Filtered water
- Strong, fresh, whole bean coffee (I prefer french roast)
- coffee grinder
- french press
- frother or whisk
- 2% milk
Start by boiling a kettle of filtered water. Rinse french press with hot water. Grind the beans to a course grind and place 4 generous tablespoons in the bottom of the french press (more if you like your coffee stronger). When the water boils, let rest off the heat for about 1 minute. Measure 1 ¬Ω cups of the water and pour into the french press. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Place top (plunger) on the carafe and let sit for 4 minutes (more than 4 minutes will burn the coffee and turn it bitter). Carefully, push the plunger down on top of the grounds. Meanwhile, while coffee is brewing, place 1 cup of milk in a small saucepan and scald the milk, but do not boil or burn it. When coffee is brewed, remove milk from the heat and whisk or use frother to make it light and foamy. Pour the coffee from the press and the milk from the saucepan simultaneously into the bowl so they are combined. Grab bowl with both hands and sip!
I often still wonder why the cup had to replace the bowl. I like the bowl. First, you get a larger portion if you use a bowl. You can savor your breakfast a bit longer. It is as if you are somehow embracing the warm coffee, much as you should embrace the start of each new morning. By design, the bowl encourages sipping. There is no handle, you have less control and must drink slower. The cup, on the hand, is rather cold. Your hands never come in contact with the heat and warmth of the cup. In fact, the handle stays cold‚Ä¶on purpose. The cup is smaller, designed to serve the ‚Äòhurry up, finish your coffee, I am running late philosophy.‚Äô When is the last time you saw someone walking out of Starbucks with a bowl of coffee to go? Never‚Ä¶it‚Äôs in a cup. The cup seems to represent the American lifestyle; the bowl represents the European lifestyle. I prefer slowing down, relaxing, and enjoying to rushing, rushing, gulping and running. Don’t you?
These days I enjoy a bowl of caf√© au lait every morning for breakfast. It is part of my morning ritual. If I am running late or out of coffee beans and I grab a cup of coffee-to-go, I feel out of sorts‚Ä¶.like something is missing. Next time you want a cup of coffee for your breakfast, fix yourself a steaming bowl of caf√© au lait, add a croissant or some biscotti, put some Edith Piaf in the CD player, close your eyes and imagine you‚Äôre in Paris!