Confessions from a café snob
Once, I met a young Frenchman on a France-bound plane who had moved to live in Singapore for work. I asked him if he missed France.
He said not really – “except for the cafés and the wonderful coffee in Paris” Really????
In my humble opinion the coffee in France is only good for opening one’s bowels shortly after having been drunk. I warrant it could easily be carcinogenic or at least caustic for the gut lining.
And I’m sorry.
Just because your cafe looks like this is not going to distract me from the burnt, WD40-in-a-thimble you have just charged me $5 for.
“Un café” in France is a teensy little cup with some strong black bitter sludge in it that the French wolf down with a fag for breakfast and gallop off to smoke at work or play.
It has only been a short couple of years since the French served whipped Chantilly cream piled in your coffee masquerading as a Cappuccino. Now at least a Cappuccino is sans Chantilly but I can’t really distinguish any difference between this and the Grand Crémes or Café Americains one orders.
I have lost count of the number of cups of Burnt Tyre slurry I have been served in France – and not just France may I add, many countries have little if no idea what a thing of beauty a well made coffee is.
And in my opinion my opinion counts.
I have cred. I own a Rancilio Silvia coffee machine that makes the best damn domestic coffees IN THE WORLD (and that I paid a King’s Ransom for) but oh! the joy! the pleasure! the taste!
I have a Gaggia grinder and I buy a single bag of House Blend roasted beans and grind each fresh cup each matin and extract the créma and texture the milk to produce an art-d’oeuvre of a coffee.
I stand on my balcony and survey the scum below as I sniff, sip, swallow and savour the moment.
Yes. I am A Coffee Snob.
But back to France. There is an historic reason why French coffee tastes so bad:
The beans: the French have a taste for robusta, a low-cost, mostly low-quality bean that gives good crema but tastes thin and harsh. Robusta is easier to care for and has a greater crop yield than the other major species of coffee: arabica, so it’s cheaper to produce. Robusta is typically produced at lower altitudes and is more disease- and pest-resistant than Arabica. These harsher robusta beans are mostly used as a filler in lower-grade coffee blends and – the key factor: Robusta has about twice as much caffeine as Arabica so it’s very addictive for the French who have grown accustomed to their morning slurry and could explain why the jeune homme in the plane missed French coffees……
So you add to this the fact that it is CHEAPER and it’s grown in France’s former colonies, the French still have obligatory protectionist contracts to buy these beans and
even the most glamorous restaurants will serve you one of these WD40 Chasers after your dessert.
But why is there an absence of a barista tradition in France up until now? French cafes so often use stale, over-roasted beans on second-rate machines. Their coffee is ground in batches and not to order.
Roasted beans are kept sitting around in open barrels can you believe it!
You may as well grind balsa-wood into your coffee cup. AND – if you ask for a café crème or noisette – voila! you risk a box of U.H.T. milk in your cup with its own distinctive stench. Mon dieu!
So How Do You Avoid Cat-Poo Coffee Breath in France?
There are some great cafes in Paris opening up and catering to the more discerning palate. I love the pretty and unusual spots and will always frequent them and I will order une tisane (a herbal tea).
If I want a great coffee I go to:
Cafe Lomi with Australian-born Arnephy and a star barista. 3 ter rue Marcadet in the unfashionable 18 th arrondissement of Paris.
Coffee fanatics make the pilgrimage out there. And it’s where Lomi test their prospective coffee beans, and out of sight is a vast coffee roaster and sacks of beans from as far afield as Salvador, Brazil and Ethiopia. Lomi is one of an increasing number of Franco-Australian collaborations, owned by Aleaume Paturle, who picked up the coffee bug making espressos in San Diego, and Aussie barista Paul Arnephy, who won the Latte Art award for best artistic use of milk in coffee designs.
Lomi is a wholesale business passionately wanting to educate Parisian cafe and restaurant owners about coffee and also to supply top-quality beans roasted on its premises.
This feels like a losing battle some days, I can spend the whole day going from cafe to cafe and meeting owners who have no interest in making better coffee.
Another Australian – Tom Clark spent a year in Paris as part of his arts/law degree in 2006-7. While loving the French food and wine culture, he was however, shocked at the poor quality coffee on offer.
In Paris Tom Clark and his French partner Antoine Netien have started their own left bank Café Coutume, where they source quality green beans and roast them on the premises. They turn out concentrated cups with distinctive fruity or spicy notes. If Clark grew up steeped in coffee culture, Netien had a caffeine revelation while working in Australia. He became fascinated by the roasting process, and eventually won the 2007 Golden Bean roasting championships in Melbourne. Café Coutume Address: 47 rue Babylone, 75007
I visited the lovely Gloria at her cafe in the Marais of Paris last year with my 17 year old son who is also – make no bones about it – a Coffee Snob.
Her cafe is La Caféothèque (52 rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, 011-33-01-53-018-384), and it’s delightful. Gloria, the former Guatemalan ambassador to France, serves single-origin espresso drinks only, made with direct-trade beans roasted in-house.
Ohh la-la Latte!!
- KB Café Shop, at 62 rue des Martyrs, 9th
- Le Bal Café, at 6 impasse de la Défense, 18th
- Merce and the Muse: 1bis, rue Dupuis, 3e
- Sugarplum Cake Shop, at 68 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, 5th