You’re in Paris! And you want to sit in a corner café and people-watch all day, so you order “un café, s’il vous plaît.” A few minutes later an espresso arrives at your table. H-m-m. You were expecting something larger, weren’t you? Something more substantial around which to wrap all ten of your cold fingers, so you could sip, and sip, and sip … and maybe channel your inner Hemingway. You politely inform the waiter that you wanted “a coffee” and not “an espresso,” and the inevitable confusion ensues.
I remember my first time. It was a bit of a surprise. How could someone sit at a table “all day” with just an ounce or two of espresso? Ordering un café(or any drink) at a table in France means that you have sort of purchased the right to sit at that table until you are ready to leave, even if your beverage takes only a minute or two to consume. There are no free refills, no bottomless pots.
If you want a bigger beverage, you will have to choose one of these other options: un café Americano or un café allongé (two names for the same beverage, made by adding hot water to a shot of espresso to fill a larger cup); un café au lait or un café crème (hot milk or cream added to an espresso shot); un cappuccino (typically a breakfast beverage, but now enjoyed more and more in the afternoons, too, with lots of steamed milk foam on top); un café filtré (rare; made in a drip-style machine with a large pot); or perhaps un café double (two espresso shots in the same cup).
Paradoxically, you will rarely see a “French press” coffee pot (un cafetière à piston), although they are used at home and sometimes presented to groups dining in hotels. Waiters familiar with “intercultural coffee confusion” sometimes inquire about the size of the coffee you are expecting. When I want un vrai café français, I’ll often reply to the thoughtful waiter (mistaking me for a café novice) that, yes, un espresso or un café normal would be perfect, merci.
Now, to distill this “haiku moment” into its 17-syllable essence: