Entering a café in Paris recently, searching for coffee, the waiter greeted me:
“On a du très bon café monsieur” (We make excellent coffee here sir).
“Ah bon?” (Oh really?) I thought, doubtfully.
The milk was delicious. The coffee part of my café however is best left undescribed; despite the waiter’s good intentions I’m sure.
Coffee for me is integral to a dance festival, notably for sustaining on the dance floor and for summoning the weekend visitor’s joie de vivre that Europe’s wondrous array of regional capitals deserve. Budapest, Krakow, Madrid, Vilnius, Brussels, London, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Ljubljana, Bucharest, Stockholm: each are more pleasurable after visiting a reputable café. In the event that you visit Paris, I thought that you might appreciate a guide to the haunts of its few baristas.
France is famously gourmand: think wine, chocolate, cheese, pastry, champagne (wine again). Gastronomic delicacies produced for deliciousness’ sake. Coffee seems to be traditionally viewed by Parisians as purely utilitarian: one gulps hot, bitter espresso and one is instantly energised. Or, for the habitual drinker, one is rightened from the torpidity of caffeine withdrawal. Taste is neither here not there. An appreciation for fine degrees of grinding and for carefully-regulated water temperature has not yet erupted here en masse. In this desert of scalded beans there are, mercifully, a few oasis of the good stuff.
Personally I have neither the experience nor the refined faculty of taste to claim any coffee expertise. I rely rather on an intimate circle of Australian friends who visit Paris from time to time, from Melbourne—global coffee capital, according to them—and Sydney—Australian capital, or so many often believe. In their learned opinion I offer you the following recommendations.
La Caféothèque on rue de l’Hotel de Ville overlooking the Seine can uniquely claim to serve world class coffee. The owner, of Ecuadorian origin, operates a salon du café très chaleureux with an extensive menu including transformative cappuccino. This alongside offerings for the connoisseur (slow drips and cold immersion brews), beans roasted in house for purchase, and a barista school. I suggest Sundays in summer when the boulevard opposite at river level, transformed into a pedestrian walkway, hosts jazz bands with afternoon dancing.
Around the corner on rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, Le Peloton is arranged in a typical French bar à zinc (counter) style around a road cycling theme. The owner, of New Zealand origin, has trained his baristas to create a dependably tasty cappuccino along with a comprehensive café menu.
Between Musée des Arts et Métiers and Centre George Pompidou can be found Loustic on rue Chapon. The café’s name in French means ‘shady’, as in “a shady character”. That description edges on defining the shopfront, which looks perpetually to be in a state of renovation. Inside is a charming al fresco seating arrangement that evokes the picturesque terrace d’une brasserie parisienne in miniature. As I say, the interior—it’s difficult to sketch in words. The owner, of English origin, tells me that the water temperature on the café’s machine is set to 96 degrees Celsius in order to avoid burning the coffee. The result is a titillating cappuccino and caffeine sundries.
Finally, next to Canal Saint-Martin on rue de Grange aux Belles is modest café Ten Belles. Here can reliably be found a flavoursome brew correctly concocted by the hand of an adept barista.