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Coffee in France


hosinmigs
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So sorry to generalize, but I'm assuming all of France is like this. I know every place in Paris was. To a certain extent, the coffee (non-laced version) in Amsterdam was the same, but not as good.

How do they brew in France? It was like heaven for me. I use a French Press in the morning, but it doesn't do it justice. It's something they do with the milk...I don't know. Needless to say, I can't recreate it. And it's not espresso (I don't think) or anything like that.

I loved it and I can't make it? Why? ....

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

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Yeah, they do it differently over there. I drink mine black, and I find it is in between regular coffee and espresso in terms of strength. Served in smaller cups too. I love it, but then again I love most everything they do in Paris...

Don't even get me started on French yogurt...man that stuff is good...

"It's better to burn out than to fade away"-Neil Young

"I think I hear a dingo eating your baby"-Bart Simpson

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I loved the food when I visited Paris but found the coffee to vary from atrocious to barely acceptable. If you've never had really good espresso you might find "un cafe" to be strong but smooth. I'd describe it as flat espresso that tasted a bit watered down.

It was typically made with Italian brands such as Illy that are smooth and inoffensive but lack a distinct and memorable flavor profile. More significant is that little to no attention is paid to issues such as consistency of tamping, milk texturing, temperature control (of the shot pulling process) and worst of all - it was usually stale. I saw grinder doser after grinder doser that were full to the brim early in the day and the ground coffee sat there getting more stale by the minute all day long.

Initially I was baffled by the disconnect between my dissatisfaction, as described above, and the glowing reports I've read and heard here and elsewhere about "French coffee". Since then I've discovered that friends with extensive travel experience in Italy, almost to a person, share my perspective on the coffee scene in France.

Perhaps even more telling are the recent email discussions I've had with some French espresso enthusiasts. When asked where to get good espresso in Paris the standard answer was: "in our homes".

Ouch. I know this sounds really negative and that's not my nature (as those of you who've read many of my posts will likely agree).

Now that I'm done ranting... :rolleyes:

If you really wanted to try reproducing French coffee at home I suggest buying a can of Illy and using a stovetop espresso machine (aka a "moka pot"). Use a trifle less coffee per ounce of water than the dirtections recommend and you're likely to get a brew that's very similar to what you enjoyed in France but quite possibly better.

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Wow. No kidding. That's an interesting perspective. I think what I like most was coffee/milk combo. I like cap, but sometimes I want a more smooth, rich coffee flavor. In my mind, it's the milk that does that.

So, maybe the stovetop espresso device is the way to go...

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

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I had only one cafe au lait during my time there and tried two or three cappuccino's. ust have been bad luck on my part as they all tasted kind of weak and the milk testuring was not silky and velvety like I get it at the best cafe's in the US. BUt I didn't have what could be considered as a reasonable sample size. I did have one better than average espresso at Cafe Vespa in the Marais.

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I had only one cafe au lait during my time there and tried two or three cappuccino's.  ust have been bad luck on my part as they all tasted kind of weak and the milk testuring was not silky and velvety like I get it at the best cafe's in the US.  BUt I didn't have what could be considered as a reasonable sample size. I did have one better than average espresso at Cafe Vespa in the Marais.

Phaelon56, I totally agree with you. I am an espresso enthusiest, and to my great surprise I too found the coffee in France to be terrible to barely passable. Let's see, I was very fortunate to spend 18 days in France, at say 3 coffee's a day. Of those I can recall two good coffees, maybe ten that were ok, and too many more that were simply attrocious. Of the good coffees, one was at an Italian restaurant in Dijon, the other was at a three star in Paris which cost me six euros. let me reiterate, the coffee was good, not great, for six euros!

What really surprises me, is that across the border, in Italy, this problem doesn't exist. Over the years, I've probably spent 50 days in Italy, and could count on one hand the number of dodgy coffees I've had there, and they were usually at train stations. But even these were better than some of the dodgy's I drank in France.

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Now that I'm done ranting...  :rolleyes:

If you really wanted to try reproducing French coffee at home I suggest buying a can of Illy and using a stovetop espresso machine (aka a "moka pot"). Use a trifle less coffee per ounce of water than the dirtections recommend and you're likely to get a brew that's very similar to what you enjoyed in France but quite possibly better.

A can? A *can* of coffee? Unlike you, my experience with coffee in Paris was quite pleasureable.

I spent much of my time in Paris in a small hotel in the Latin Quarter where the coffee was made from dark, freshly ground beans every morning. The rest of my time was also spent in the Latin Quarter in private homes. Again, the coffee was excellent.

As a matter of fact, this time in Paris turned me into a coffee addict. I could take it ot leave it before that.

Now, re. the espresso - I, too, love good espresso. That being said, those of us who are truly addicted and don't just sip a little coffee in the morning or after a meal, cannot drink espresso all the time. Were that so, the kitchens of the world would be hotbeds of cardiac disrhythmia (and there are already enough problems in the kitchen, anyway). Those of us who have run restaurant kitchens tend to run on caffeine - and lots of it. Many, many cups per day.

Okay, my recommendation would be this: Buy a good burr grinder. Buy a good French press. Buy good, freshly dark roasted Arabica beans. Play with the grind (but never too fine for a French press.) This should provide you with excellent coffee.

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I agree with you Chef Carey - on the value of a good burr grinder, fresh Arabica beans and use of a press pot (or a manual drip filter for some of us.

My reason for suggesting a *can* of coffee is that everywhere I went in Paris, at least outside of the Latin Quarter (which my brief time there did not allow me to explore), Illy was the predominant brand and it's readily available in whole bean or pre-ground form here in the US in nitrogen flushed vacuum packed canisters.

Illy has what I'd describe as a very balanced flavor profile in the sense that it is not especially robust nor is it bitter (if properly made). I don't personally happen to be a fan of that brand. As a coffee roaster I'm loathe to recommend that people consider canned coffee of any type but the coffee I had in Paris could most easily be replicated by Illy.

I'm sure that good press pot coffee and good espresso is typical in people's homes but I wasn't fortunate enough to visit any private homes nor did I find good coffee or espresso in cafes or restaurants. That's not to say that it wasn't there but I just didn't run across it. And in defense of Paris I'll add that there's nearly as much if not more bad coffee and espresso in NYC but in NYC (for me) it's easier to find the good stuff.

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My coffee experiences in Paris have been much as Owen describes them, but then those expeiences have been mainly in cafes that were preparing coffee (badly) using espresso machines. When I spent a month in Paris about 30 years ago I mostly got cafe au lait, where I would be presented with a pot of brewed coffee with a pitcher of heated milk and would blend them at the table for a very nice coffee.

I think Chef Carey may be on to something here: If you want good coffee in France, avoid the espresso and look for brewed coffee. As I remember, many restaurants serve "cafe filtre," and if they use freshly ground coffee and make it to order it will be way better than any espresso drink you're likely to get there.

It is very stange to me, but this culture that is obsessed with food serves up the worst espresso I have ever tasted. It's even worse than what you get in a typical American cafe.

--Richard

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I think Chef Carey may be on to something here: If you want good coffee in France, avoid the espresso and look for brewed coffee. As I remember, many restaurants serve "cafe filtre," and if they use freshly ground coffee and make it to order it will be way better than any espresso drink  you're likely to get there.

This raises the inevitable question - where does one go to find "cafe filtre" in Paris?

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OK, maybe this is where the disconnect is, though I'm not exactly sure what you mean by Cafe Filtre (drip?). I didn't go for the espresso. I'm not a huge fan. I was talking about the brewed coffee, where they seemed to already mix in the milk. Not a latte or cap. Is that a traditional cafe au lait? I thought those were more half milk, half coffee, which I don't believe I had.

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

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Cafe filtre would be some form of drip coffee. The two cafe au lait's I tried were made with the same ubiquitous "cafe" that seemed to predominate. It's not as concentrated as espresso but is made in an espresso machine. The only place I came across in my week there that had drip coffee or press pot coffee was Starbucks. I did find a lunch cafe near the Louvre that was willing to make me a cappuccino with a couple extra shots and their "cafe" was a bit more concentrated than the others but still timid.

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well this is certainly interesting isn't it? thanks for discussion everyone, and at least now I know, next time I go to Paris, try something other thank an espresso. And I agree with you Topotail, and perhaps this is where my angst and confusion comes in. It's hard to understand how a society such as Parisians are so concerned and thoughtful about food and wine, doesn't do great coffee. Tres strange!

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I agree with some of you here, I find coffee brewed in most cafes and restaurants in France to be nearly undrinkable. The most predominant type of beans used in the ubiquitous cafes is Robusta, or Robusta blends, which produce dark, oily, acidic nearly to the point of acrid brewn that I find almost undrinkable.

Don't even get me started on the Nespresso capsules that are popping up everywhere.

Most cafes also use UHT milk, the ultra-pasteurized milk, which has a certain caramel-y flavor that some people find quite attractive, unfortunately it also has a characteristic smell -stink as I call it- which I find objectionable.

That's not to say that there is no good coffee to be found in Paris or in France in general. Many good restaurants and cafes use arabica beans and pull proper shots.

I recommend these three:

Verlet

256, rue Saint-Honoré, 75001

close on Sunday and the month of August

Cafes Amazone

11, rue Rambuteau, 75004

open on Sunday

Comptoir Richard

145 rue Saint-Dominique, 75007

(I wrote about this on my blog a while back. And if you go check it out, you should know that I don't use Francis! and Illy beans anymore, it's Rancilio Silvia and Blue Bottle or nothing right now. :smile: )

chez pim

not an arbiter of taste

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Might be the process here that seems to hold in many countries, that is, that the method of making coffee is traditional and people "know" how it is supposed to be made and how it is "supposed" to taste. Of course, Turkish coffee and Moroccan coffee and Italian coffee are all entirely different, but I think the people who are used to these methods and roasts have a comfort factor in thinking that this is what coffee "is". In a way, sometimes this is good, in my opinion, because it preserves some unusual ways of making coffee, in particular, ways that people adapted to the varieties that grow in their regions. Other times it seems some odd habits have simply become dogma and are passed around as an acceptable way to do things, and it just doesn't get challenged for some reason.

There is so much wonderful coffee in the world, and so little time to drink it.

www.trung-nguyen-online.com

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  • 3 weeks later...

When I was in Paris at age 20, I thought that French coffee was the best I'd ever tasted (and perhaps it was at that point), and Gauloises were the best cigarettes in the world. At least I was right about one of those.

Thirty-something years later, France no longer makes Gauloises, some say the coffee's rotten, and I no longer drink coffee or smoke. (Whoosh, that was your life mate. Do I get another? Sorry, just the one, that's all there is - to paraphrase John Cleese.) But I am now wondering whether French coffee may have gone downhill since the 1960s.

Most cafes also use UHT milk, the ultra-pasteurized milk, which has a certain caramel-y flavor that some people find quite attractive, unfortunately it also has a characteristic smell -stink as I call it- which I find objectionable.

This observation brought me up short. Is that really true? (Not that UHT milk smells and tastes peculiar - I totally agree - but that it's taken over the cafes.) I was going to opine that the difference in the flavor of French coffee with milk may be due as much to the milk as to the coffee, what with the cows eating different grasses and the milk tasting different. That was noticeable in the 1960s. But if the primary taste is now that of UHT milk, that puts yet a different, and regrettable, spin on the whole issue.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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Wow. No kidding. That's an interesting perspective. I think what I like most was coffee/milk combo. I like cap, but sometimes I want a more smooth, rich coffee flavor. In my mind, it's the milk that does that.

So, maybe the stovetop espresso device is the way to go...

I agree with hosinmigs - the milk plays a large role. I just got back form Paris 3 days ago, and really miss French coffee. I think people who appreciate black coffee or espresso have better experiences in Italy, but those of us who like cafe au lait (or cafe creme, as they seem to call it in Paris), find the Parisian versions so fulfilling. And I think it is the taste fo the whole milk. I realized this when I happened to have a glass of pure milk - it tastes different. It tastes like it's from a cow. It tastes like something, like milk! And it wasn't the UHT taste (at least the fresh milk I had wasn't). Since I returned, I have been looking into sources for raw milk around my hometown. I'm hoping that this will come closer to replicating a cafe creme at home.

By the way, I am confused about coffee terminology in France. Whenever I ordered cafe au lait in Paris, I was asked "Cafe Creme?" And I was brought coffee with hot milk, either separately, or already mixed. So I learned to ask for cafe creme. But when I did this on an excursion into the Jura, I was brought black coffee with a side of cold creme... cafe creme. Is anyone familiar with the conventions in different parts of the country?

Thanks, V.

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I agree with hosinmigs - the milk plays a large role. I just got back form Paris 3 days ago, and really miss French coffee. I think people who appreciate black coffee or espresso have better experiences in Italy, but those of us who like cafe au lait (or cafe creme, as they seem to call it in Paris), find the Parisian versions so fulfilling.

Afraid I can't agree with hosinmigs or V. The milk is different, yes, but there's no getting around the fact that the "cafe" the French make in the espresso machines found in cafes around the country is bitter and watery, which seems to result from a combination of robusta-laden blends and overextraction. I immediately give up on ordering straight shots when in France, in favor of cafe creme, but the milk, which is almost always scalded rather than properly texured, only succeeds in making the coffee slightly less offensive than it would otherwise be.

I kind of remember that ordering cafe creme seems to get one different drinks in different areas, but can't comment on what parts of the country serve what.

Maybe things have improved since the last time I was in France. After all, coffee is definitely improving in the U.S., so why shouldn't it improve in France?

--Richard

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I'll have to agree with Richard on this one. Granted, from a statistical sampling standpoint my exposure was very limited in terms of the duration of my stay (six days) and the number of places I tried (about six - we actually went to Starbuck sone mornign just so we'd get something predictable). The best I did was to order a cappuccino at one of the places in the food court adjacent to the Louvre and get an extra espresso shot in it. With my limited French it was difficult to get the order expressed clearly but I did receive a drink that was a bit bwewtetr than a Starbucks cappuccino.

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