Nothing says "Morning" in New Orleans like cafe au lait. A cup of strong coffee mixed with hot, steaming milk has been treasured in New Orleans since the beginning. Making it correctly is not difficult but it is also not as simple as brewing coffee in your coffee maker, nuking some milk and calling it a day. Here, then, is everything you need to know for making authentic Creole Cafe au Lait:
First, you will need a French drip coffee pot. (See right.)
You can purchase them new (they're not cheap!) or very often
you can find used ones online that won't put a dent in your pocket book.
Let's have a look at the parts. (See below.)
From left to right you have:
1.) The lid
2.) The dripper
3.) The basket
4.) The pot.
You'll want to start by putting water on the stove to boil. The amount depends upon the size of your pot. The easiest way to measure is to fill your pot with water and pour it into your pot, pan or kettle. In seperate pot or pan place a quantity of milk - the amount depends on how much coffee you're making - and put it on a medium flame to start heating. While the milk is heating and the water is coming to the boil prepare your coffee pot
Start by placing ground coffee in the basket. You can use plain coffee, New Orleans style coffee and chicory or you can purchase the chicory seperately and put it in yourself. This is the preference of many natives since it's easier to add more or less chicory to taste. The best is to use coffee with a coarse ground for dripping, but not essential. You may end up with a tiny bit of sludge at the bottom of the cup, but so what? It, too, is an old Creole tradition! Use a rounded tablespoon of ground coffee per cup - more or less, according to taste. After placing the grounds in the basket place the dripper on top.
The basket with the dripper goes into the pot. Once the water on the stove has come to a full, rolling boil you are ready to start dripping. And here is the secret to making the real deal:
Pour the water in a little at a time - start with a very small splash and give it a second to allow it to saturate the grounds; then pour in a small splash; let it drip completely down; wait a second for it to drip through the grounds; then another small splash; let it drip down; wait; another splash... etc., etc until the water is gone and the smell of coffee is steaming from the spout.
Cafe au lait is properly served in demitasse cups but this is not crucial. Fill the cup half full of coffee and half full of the hot milk that's been simmering on the stove. When you serve a second cup the coffee in the pot will have cooled slightly. NEVER REHEAT IT! You can reheat the milk so it's nice and hot and it will bring the coffee back up to delicious steaminess but, if you want to take it an extra step, you can place the pot in a pan of hot water or turn your oven onto the lowest setting and keep it hot in there. (Be sure to use a hot pad when serving again - it's a metal pot with a metal handle!)
Serve with hot biscuits, cinnamon rolls or...better yet...fresh beignets! (YUM!)