If Paris has a coffee reputation, it isn’t a good one. The French capital’s coffee identity involves the cafe au lait, the french roast, the ubiquitous cafe and the lost generation. All that is changing. Paris is very slowy becoming serious about good, speciality coffee. And thank goodness.
I went to Paris with the aim to try as many good cafes as I possibly could. Out of the seven addresses I had written down on a now rumpled up sheet of blue paper, I managed to visit four. I missed number five because, when my mother and I walked by, it looked more like a restaurant than a proper cafe. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
I must admit, I am a bit jealous about this new breed of Parisian cafes. Why can’t Milan have something of this ilk? I would say it’s up to me to start it, however, I think it’s safe to say that Italy is not my soul country. I’ll be watching from afar, encouraging other people to go forward and bring speciality coffee to Italy.
Kooka Boora was the first cafe I went and, although it earned a solid meh in the quality department, it provided a lovely atmosphere from which to dip my toe into French coffee. Located in Montmartre, Kooka Boora is a tiny cafe that manages to shove an astonishing number of people — mostly English speakers but a few French as well — into the light wood-filled room. The chairs are ideally designed to fit as many people as possible. There are two long tables with wooden chairs that have dividers in them. You could sit alone or across from some people talking and still feel as if you are in your own world. You could sit across from a friend and chat without worrying about interrupting the person, or people, next to you. There are quite a few seats that face the windows and even some seats outside if you’re there on a nice day. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. So I sat inside, tucking my umbrella, bag and jacket away on the empty seat next to me.
I had a cappuccino and, after the first sip, I announced to my mother that it tasted like every random coffee I’ve had in Bristol. It wasn’t a good thing, it wasn’t a bad thing. It tasted like comfort, which is a different taste from good coffee. It was milky but had a pleasantly sweet chocolate flavor. I enjoyed every sip, but hoped that the next cafes on my list would provide me with drinks a bit closer to what I was used to in New York.
On Friday I made my way to Canal Saint Martin to try Ten Belles. Immediately upon walking in I loved the cafe and not just because the barista was one of the most attractive people I have ever seen in my life (though good looking employees really do help smooth out any doubts I may have about a cafe). The cafe was on two levels with four tables on the bottom floor and who knows how many on the upper (I’d guess around the same number). It was relatively empty when I walked in, though I could hear the sounds of English coming from a group of students sitting in the top section. I ordered my cappuccino hitting all those italian-y notes on the word caPPuCCeeno and sitting down to wait for my drink. It was one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever had. Smooth and complex, nutty and rich, true love.
I certainly overstayed my welcome there, demanding that my mother come from her trip to the Louvre’s Costume Museum to try the drink for herself. I certainly hope she thought it was worth it (note: She says: “absolutely. i really enjoyed seeing the neighborhood and the coffee and sandwich was great too. it was a fun adventure for me and it was nice that you [Emilia] were so excited about it” perhaps not a glowing review of the coffee, but i digress). We even split a sandwich (cheddar, cucumber, apple jam), which was surprisingly good.
If I go back When I go back, I will definitely try their lunch deal of soup, sandwich and espresso/cookie for a eleven euro. It seemed like a real bargain for Paris.
Saturday found us at a very empty Télescope, the cafe where I had my first noisette. The noisette is a brilliant little drink that really must make its debut stateside soon. It’s the French version of a macchiato, but more like a cortado. The best equivalent I can give you New York coffee nerds is the macchiato at Joe. It’s simply espresso with steamed milk and a dollop of foam. Just a touch smaller than a cappuccino, it was love. Telescope’s coffee was also excellent, rich but bright. Once again, we stayed for a surprisingly long time and even ended up chatting a little while with our barista (David Flynn, co-owener). It was a great little cafe in a surprising area and a must try for anyone and everyone in Paris.
If Télescope is a must try for the coffee, then La Caféothèque is a must-try for the amazing space in a prime location. On Sunday morning, my mother and I walked to this gorgeous cafe on Rue de l’Hotel de Ville, with a view directly out onto the Seine. We went in, chose a fantastic duo of comfortable seats right by the window from the many rooms available (all of which were, surprisingly, empty). Instead of just getting a normal drink selection, they had a menu of different single-origin espresso from which to choose. You could order any of them as a simple espresso, ristretto, allonge or noisette. My mother and I got a Guatemala La Cambre and the only Ethiopian variety on offer, both as noisettes (I chose and my mother drank). Although I normally say that I like Guatemalan coffees, I really enjoyed the Ethiopian one in this instance. It was richer, with a more prominent acidity. The Guatemalan was too sweet and got lost in the milk. We got little squares of Michel Cluizel chocolate to have with our coffee, which made the entire experience even more enjoyable.
La Cafeotheque also sells beans, if you just want to pop in to take some back with you. They have events in the evening and are the least “traditional” cafe out of the bunch I tried in the sense that they don’t resemble a New York speciality cafe.
Paris certainly surprised me with their coffee scene. Although I will never be a true Francophile, I’m already thinking about when I can go back to finish checking off the last few cafes from my list.
What do you think of when you think of French coffee? Would you go to Paris to try any of these cafes?