Blog:: Cafes of Paris

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Parisian Cafe Crawl :: during a couple of weeks in early April, Crema did a ‘café crawl’ around Paris, the full story to be published in our upcoming [southern hemisphere] Autumn 2013 issue. Here, we take the opportunity to publish a few of our initial thoughts from our trip here. Whilst not strictly chronological, this blog more-or-less follows our path across the streets of Paris, from the trendy Left Bank, right up to the ethnic’ and slightly grungy 18th Arrondissement, which is the home to the famous Sacre Coeur.

There are essentially two types of café mentioned here – firstly we cover a couple of the most famous ‘traditional’ –type café, of which there are obviously hundreds in and around the centre of Paris. Typically these cafes are of the round sit-down-table type, where emphasis is as much on the food, wine and ambience, as the coffee. Consequently the quality of the actual coffee served was usually poor. It was almost as if the coffee is incidental to all the other things at these cafes, where [in the case of the most famous ones, at least] the point is as much about ‘seeing and being seen’ as it is about the quality of the coffee.

We begin with a short piece on a couple of the most notable of these ‘old-style’ cafes [where incidentally, the coffee is pretty much undrinkable] before going on to cover some where you can safely go for the coffee…

 

‘TRADITIONAL’  CAFES

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Café de Flore – on the famous Boulevard St. Germain, one of those ‘famous’ classic cafe names of Paris frequented by such artists/intellectuals as Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Great ambience.

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Aux Deux Magots – named after the statues of two Confucian wise men [inside] and once frequented by such literary greats as Verlaine, Rimbaud and Oscar Wilde. Again a famous ‘people watching’ spot on Blvd St Germain.

Note: we covered a number more of these ‘traditional–type cafes, their common feature being that they have a wonderful ambience but unfortunately, at least to an educated palate the coffee is undrinkable, but as discussed above, that’s not why you go to these ‘old-world’ cafes.

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‘NEW WORLD’ CAFES

Coutume Cafe Paris

Le Coutume Café & Roastery– the first of the ‘new world cafes we cover here, Coutume was opened in 2011 by joint partners, Frenchman Antoine Netien and Australian Tom Clark and certainly for a couple of years, Coutume has lead the move for a change with respect to quality of coffee in Paris. With both partners having been independently influenced by the Australian coffee scene, they have created an inviting space with an equally inviting array of coffee and food offerings. With its spacious and crisp white interior (although a bit of jif on the chairs wouldn’t go astray), soaring ceilings and floor to ceiling windows/bifolding doors, it is Left Bank-genteel with a serious coffee focus.

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Café Lomi – a bit of a hike to get there [we stopped at Marcadet-Poissonniers on the line 4 metro] and walked back through a somewhat gritty part of town, but a surprisingly sophisticated ‘find’ once you get there. In a converted industrial space, Café Lomi is the closest we could find to an aussie-style café, with a La Marzocco sitting on great bench space, and a mixture of seats and armchairs, making for a comfortable, welcoming café space.

It serves great food, but the wonderful thing [for tired, good-coffee-starved travellers] was that they actually had good coffee; things like café latte and flat white [well, they didn’t actually have a 'flat white' on the menu but it was no problem for Paul, our ex-Melbourne barista]. The point is, they had a good shot of espresso underneath, which we were finding a rarity after our second day in Paris.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlack Market - this is an amazingly unassuming space, Bob Dylan playing on turntable accompanied by an eclectic mix of elegant decorative elements. The owner [Youssef] didn’t seem like your regular coffee-guy – he just seemed a little too laid-back, and it turned out that up until six months earlier, he had been working as a web-designer. His casual approach was disarming; yet when he actually got to work on his stunning Mirage machine, Youssef spat out a couple of surprisingly good shots. We just couldn’t get over how quiet things were, and wondered as to how he managed to make things pay.

Verdict: ‘low-key’ he certainly may have been, but he definitely delivered the goods – in fact up until now, this was without doubt the best coffee we’d had since we hit the streets of Paris!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKooka Boora – a cosy place in a small square at the bottom of the 18th arrondissement; full of young antipodeans on their wifi, re-living dreams of home. Lovely spot with decent coffee which is already busy enough [early spring] but in Summer will be buzzing outside as well as in.

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Cafe Madam – in the notorious ‘Pigale’ district of Rue St Denis, Madam is a cosy little nook, remarkable for its great wall decoration and its bright yellow La Marzocco espresso machine. It provided warm and welcome shelter on a particularly inclement Paris winter/early spring day and the warmth extended to the greeting from ‘madam’ the owner, who seemed relatively new to the game [of coffee, that is] using beans from Coutume Café.

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Cafe Look, ParisLook – an unpretentious little place in Rue Martel in the 10th arr. We came mainly for the coffee, but could not be oblivious to the wonderful cooking smells emanating from the kitchen in the back.

And very soon they came out – a wonderful ‘3-cheese’ quiche and one of the most amazing fruit tarts you’ll ever see [see pic]. The coffee itself had a slightly bland flavour but was pleasantly  inoffensive, however it was the delicious home-cooked food that stood out…  

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Dix Belles, ParisDix Belles – cross an inner city canal à la Amsterdam, with a little piece of Melbourne in a slightly edgy part of town, and you wouldn’t be far off the impression one gets of DixBelles n a gentrifying part of the 10th Arrondissement, only 15-20 minutes walk from the groovy-chic area east of the Pierre Lachaise Cemetery [where Jim Morrison from the Doors is buried]. It’s a compact upstairs/downstairs arrangement that is popular with the locals, and will become more so, as it’s name spreads.

Part-owner Thomas worked for several years in Melbourne and knocks out a flat white that any barista there would be happy to lay claim to; he’s a very engaging frenchman with a realistic view of currently standard of Paris coffee, but an optimistic vision of where coffee in Paris could go, and he intends to be part of it.

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Telescope Cafe ParisTelescope – a slightly pretentious place in a very pretentious area [we wandered a little off-track and ended up in the garden of the Grand Palais] Telescope tries to be something that it is not – eclectic and slightly academic perhaps, in terms of the range of coffee preparations available [espresso, aeropress, french press etc] but whatever it was, for us it didn’t quite pull it off. It perhaps didn’t help that the latte pulled by the [English] barista wasn’t quite up to standard – especially disappointing at the pretentious [almost €5] price. Could be a real find if it took the coffee (rather than itself ) a little more seriously.

 

 

 

 

Cafeotheque ParisCafeotheque – owned by Gloria Montenegro Chirouze, the former Guatemalan Ambassador to Paris, this is in a fantastic location. Just off the Ile de France, on the Rue de l’Hotel de Ville, Cafeotheque is a boon for the weary traveller, tired from pounding the streets of the historic le Marais and Ile de la Cite parts of central Paris. It features a range of yummy quiches and tarts, good coffee and most importantly, a pleasant space to take the load off your feet. Note that there’ll be plenty of other people [including, in the weekend, locals] with the same idea, so finding yourself a place is likely to be the only problem!

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A quick question that will no doubt occur to the average Anglo Saxon (Australian, New Zealand, west coast of the US, and occasional English) reader with an even-slightly refined palate – does this mean that this is all the decent coffee cafes to choose from in a city the size of Paris?

Sadly the answer is pretty much ‘yes’. While this doesn’t look like a very extensive list, we did a lot of research before we began our café crawl and we found our research was almost spot-on. We have omitted [apart from Café de Flore and Aux Deux Magots] most of the traditional cafes because, with sadly few exceptions, the pattern was the same – they all served terrible coffee – stale, burnt, under-extracted or made on a machine that tasted like it hadn’t been cleaned for the last 150 years …

For a country with the gastronomic credentials of a country like France, the general state of coffee in its capital city [apart from the few exceptions listed here] is a disgrace.

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