Getting a cup of coffee has always been a bit of an adventure in Paris. The quality of the Espresso (what you sort of get when you order ‘un cafe’) and espresso drinks with milk (cafe court, cafe au lait or cafe creme) is all over the map. And BTW, if you looking for something close to a macchiato, order a ‘cafe noisette’, an espresso with a shot of creme. A good alternative to consider.
During a visit to Paris this year I found signs that change is in the wind on a variety of fronts. Now don’t get too excited, despite the changes that have overtaken the eating experience in Paris, it seems that the coffee revolution (the so called 4th wave of micro-roasters) has not arrived in force as of yet. Still, there were a host of interesting signs that the status quo is breaking down. Is the coffee better? Thank god, yes.
French coffee has long been dominated by older established brands such as Cafe Richard, Jacob Suchard and Jaques Vebre. This year, when visiting bars, bakeries and cafes I found a proliferation of Italian Coffee companies (LaVazza, Illy and Malongo) that had brought their quality products into the Parisian market. While not everyone is a fan of Italian Robusta driven espressos, these companies have helped to raise the bar with consistent coffee programs built around good coffee and good equipment and that means super automatic espresso machines. These fully automatic espresso machines improved the quality of coffee in France by taking the grinding/tamping/pulling the shot process out of the hands of indifferent barkeeps and bakery owners who care not about what they are about to serve. Simply put, an automatic machine that delivers 90% of a good cup of coffee is a lot better than an untrained barrista with great beans but a lousy grinder and dirty machine. It is a compromise, yes, but a good one.
One quick note, I visited a Cafe Richard retail store on Rue St Dominic in the 7th. It clearly has seen better days, full of what looked like stale beans and unfocused retail concepts, it would function a lot better as a cafe in this bustling side of the 7th. It was completely empty.
So what is new? Well there are two outposts of the next wave that we found during our trip.
On to the good news. What you see below is a very well executed single origin espresso (Ethiopia that day) with a lot of high notes that I enjoyed at Coutume, a roastery/cafe located in the 7th at 47 Rue De Babyone (01 45 51 50 47). It was thick, rich and sharp.
This little guy would feel right at home in Seattle, New York, or San Francisco. On that early afternoon the cafe was full of young couples, about 1/2 french 1/2 non enjoying a bright airy atmosphere and a pricey brunch at 20 euros each.
With a beautiful roaster located on the premises, siphons for drip and cold brew for cold coffees, Coutume is dead serious about the coffee it serves.
The whole bean scene has another player as well, L’Abre A Cafe, 75 Rue Leon 75018. I purchased a small package of his Iapar Rouge Bresil at a gourmet store in the 3rd. The coffee was freshly roasted, flavorful and thank goodness not burnt. This micro roaster gets the concepts from origin to wash, drying methods, milling and roast color. You can find out more about this new player at http://www.larbecafe.com, 06 25 13 18 46.
OK, so here is the clue. Look at the menu. See the burger? Yes, the burger. This my friends is a McDonalds cafe located near the City Hall on Rue de Rivoli. The Cafe Creme that I ordered was very passable, nothing gourmet, but not an off note in it. I am sure that it will be just as good when I order one again. I didn’t try the Macarons, but they looked darn good. The rest of the McDonalds was just as well designed. If this is the future of their restaurants then please bring them to the US soon.
There is progress in the French coffee market and I believe that it will continue to grow, there is no gourmet tradition of drinking good coffee to hold on and the French have always found a way to enjoy quality when it comes to food and beverages and now coffee.
Is there a cup of great coffee that you had in Paris? Share it with me, I will be glad to visit it on my next trip this summer.