What is a Café con Leche?

Photo of author

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I may receive a commission if you purchase using these links.

A timeless beverage, Café con Leche stands out as more than just a coffee-milk blend. With roots tracing back to Spain and the warm embrace of Latin American culture, this drink represents family, tradition, and shared memories.

Key Highlights:

  1. Café con Leche, with its origins in 1800s Spain, beautifully combines equal portions of strong coffee and scalded milk.
  2. Simplicity in preparation involves blending brewed coffee and heated milk, often sweetened to preference.
  3. Typically served in a glass surrounded by fresh Churros.
  4. This drink is a significant element of Hispanic/Latino culture, a symbol of family bonds and traditions.
  5. Beyond its delightful taste, Café con Leche embodies shared memories and generational continuity.

What is a Café con Leche?

Café con Leche is a hot beverage made from equal parts of strong brewed coffee and steamed milk1. Originating in Spain, it’s known for its balanced taste that combines the bitterness of coffee with the creaminess of milk.

It’s often considered a breakfast staple in many countries. Its combination of milk and coffee makes it a more filling option compared to other coffee-only beverages.

In some variations like café con leche en vaso or café con leche de desayuno, the amount of milk may be higher.


Originating in Spain, Café con Leche soon found its way across the oceans, integrating seamlessly with the Latin American culture and further evolving with Cuban communities in Miami. Its enduring charm owes to its simplicity and the emotions it encapsulates.

Key Ingredients

  1. Strong Coffee: Often brewed as espresso, this provides the robust foundation for the drink.
  2. Scalded Milk: Instead of merely being heated or steamed, the milk in Café con Leche is scalded, adding a distinctive touch.
  3. Sweetener: While optional in some regions, Cuban and Puerto Rican establishments often prepare Café con Leche with sugar, enhancing its natural flavors.

How to make one at home

  1. Opt for a robust dark roast, ensuring a concentrated brew. My fave is Espresso Roast from Spirit Animal Coffee.
  2. Traditionally, whole dairy milk is scalded just below boiling point, not only to eliminate bacteria but also for its unique flavor. Sugar is often added to the milk as it is being heated, offering an extra layer of sweetness. I find that the simplest way to do this is in a saucepan on the stovetop.
  3. Mix coffee and milk in a 1:1 ratio, achieving a perfect balance.
Scalded Milk Being Poured Into A Glass Filled Half Way With Dark Roast Coffee
equal parts dark roast coffee and scalded whole milk
  1. Sweeten according to personal taste. While some prefer a hint of sugar, others lean towards a sweeter palate.
  2. While traditionally served hot, a cold version can be equally refreshing.
  3. Garnish with cinnamon powder and a cinnamon stick!

How Café con Leche is Served

You have options when it comes to enjoying Café con Leche. Prefer a milkier taste? Opt for a ‘clarito,’ which has more milk. If you’re a fan of stronger coffee flavors, go for an ‘oscurito,’ with less milk.

Although it’s traditionally a hot drink, you can also enjoy it over ice for a refreshing twist. While whole milk is the standard choice, you’re not limited—feel free to use skim, almond, or oat milk, but expect a different flavor and consistency.

Sugar levels can be adjusted to personal preference, and some even add a pinch of salt for complexity. If you like to be hands-on with your coffee, you can order it ‘yo lo preparo,‘ which means you’ll get espresso and steamed milk separately to mix as you like.

Nutritional Breakdown for 8-ounce Café con Leche (Approximate Values)

The nutritional content can vary depending on the specific ingredients used, such as the type of milk and the amount of sugar added. However, a general nutritional breakdown for an 8-ounce serving of café con leche made with 4 ounces of whole milk and 4 ounces of brewed coffee could look something like this:

  • Calories: 75-90 kcal
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 2 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 7 grams
  • Sugar: 6 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Cholesterol: 12 mg
  • Sodium: 50 mg
  • Caffeine: 95 mg
Café Con Leche Calorie Distribution
Calorie Distribution

Key Nutritional Takeaways:

  1. Caloric Content: Café con leche is relatively low in calories, making it a lighter option compared to other coffee beverages that include syrups or whipped cream.
  2. Protein Source: The milk provides a modest amount of protein, which can be beneficial for muscle repair and growth.
  3. Fat Content: Whole milk contributes to the fat content. Opting for skim or low-fat milk can reduce this.
  4. Sugar Levels: The natural sugar from milk contributes to the carbohydrate content. Adding sweeteners will increase this.
  5. Caffeine: The beverage contains caffeine, which can be both good and bad depending on your sensitivity and daily intake.

To fine-tune the nutritional content to your needs, you can make modifications like using non-dairy milk, reducing the sugar, or adjusting the ratio of coffee to milk.

Café con Leche vs. Similar Drinks:

Latte: The Creamy Contender

Lattes are often mistaken for Café con Leche, but there’s a key difference: the milk-to-coffee ratio. In a Latte, you’re getting a higher proportion of milk, which results in a creamier texture. This makes Lattes a go-to option for those who prefer their coffee beverages to be more on the milky side.

Cappuccino: The Three-Layer Phenomenon

Cappuccinos offer a unique three-layer experience: a shot of espresso, followed by steamed milk, and topped off with a thick layer of foam. This is a stark contrast to Café con Leche, which maintains an equal ratio of coffee to milk without the foam layer. If you’re a fan of foam and love the robustness of espresso, a Cappuccino might be more up your alley.

3 Layers In A Cappuccino
The 3 layers of a cappuccino

Café au Lait: The Steamed Sibling

At first glance, Café au Lait might seem identical to Café con Leche, but there’s a subtle difference: the milk. Café au Lait employs steamed milk, skipping the scalding process that is characteristic of Café con Leche. This results in a beverage that’s similar in proportion but lacks the unique texture and flavor imparted by scalded milk.

By understanding these nuances, you can make an informed decision the next time you’re faced with a menu full of coffee options. Each of these beverages offers a distinct experience, allowing you to choose based on your texture and flavor preferences.

Can I Buy Café con Leche Online?

Absolutely, Café con Leche is available in various formats for online purchase:


How is Café con Leche pronounced?

Café con Leche is pronounced as “ka-fey kon le-che.” It’s a Spanish phrase which translates to “coffee with milk” in English.

What machine is suitable for making Café con Leche?

Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine

Traditional Café con Leche doesn’t require a specific machine, a stovetop espresso maker or a Moka pot works well. However, for convenience, an espresso machine with a steam wand for scalding milk can be used.

Can Café con Leche be prepared with condensed milk?

Yes, Café con Leche can be prepared using condensed milk instead of regular milk. Condensed milk provides a richer, sweeter flavor compared to regular milk. It’s an alternative for those who prefer a sweeter and creamier coffee beverage.

What are the essential ingredients for Café con Leche?

The essential ingredients for Café con Leche are strong coffee (preferably espresso) and milk. Sugar or sweetener is optional based on personal taste preference.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caf%C3%A9_con_leche
Avatar Of Kelsey Todd
With over two decades in the coffee industry, Kelsey is a seasoned professional barista with roots in Seattle and Santa Barbara. Accredited by The Coffee Association of America and a member of The Baristas Guild, he combines practical expertise with a profound understanding of coffee's history and cultural significance. Kelsey tries his best to balance family time with blogging time and fails miserably.