Parisian Coffee Culture (as I know it)

(In honor of my RoosRoast.)

It will shock exactly no one to hear that coffee has been an important part of my time in France. It’s an important part of my time anywhere, at least in part because I tend to keep really odd hours and caffeine is helping me regulate my schedule. Healthy lifestyles 2014 etc.

What follows is a summary of the coffee culture I’ve experienced so far. Some spots have been normal (a good cup, a few hours to visit with friends, read, or write) but two have stood out as special highlights in the last three weeks. Read on:

Lockwood was the first cafe in which I felt the way I wanted to feel in a coffee spot. Wood floors, not too bright, social. I went with two American friends, and we were all three shocked at just how American the place felt. The barista was from Wisconsin, and every single conversation I eavesdropped on (no shame) was in English. We stayed for a couple hours and, though there were people coming in and out all the time, it never got so crowded that we felt guilty about lingering.

Coutume Instituutti is Finnish run with a very French clientele. It’s sharp and clean, and feels very  Scandanavian, an opinion I base entirely off of a 7-hour layover in the Oslo airport and my limited knowledge of Swedish pop music. The location (one of three, it seems) on Rue des Ecoles (kitty corner to the Sorbonne) is my favorite coffee stop so far.
The first time I visited Coutume was with the aforementioned American friends. We wandered in to escape the chill, unaware that they were prepping for a free, food-centric event. After a  few minutes chatting with one of the guys setting up tables, we decided to stick around for the approaching excitement.
What followed was exactly the sort of experience you hope for when wandering around a new city. Coutume’s tables are all long and communal, so we eventually befriended the girls sitting next to us. The event itself began with lively debate-but-not, featuring representatives from Slow Food France, Disco Soupe, and Restaurant Day, all of whom are actively working against food waste and food bureaucracy. After hearing from the different groups, we the audience were invited to help prepare a Disco Soupe meal. The three of us obviously dove in, gloves on, and chopped vegetables with new friends to make (and then mange) both vegetable and fruit salads, as well as soup. The ingredients for all of these things had been gleaned from local markets. There is a magic element to just happening across something that you’d have deliberately attended if you’d have known about it, as though all of the events leading up to the night had been consorting to get you exactly there.

Cafe Lomi is only a 15 minute walk from the apartment I’ve been staying in for the majority of my time in Paris, so it was an easy “rest day” destination. They’re a roaster that just recently added a storefront cafe, and they have a decidedly international vibe. Also, their chairs are more comfortable. The barista who made my cafe creme sounded German, spoke French with me, spoke English to the other barista, and spoke Chinese to the woman in line ahead of me. So there are people like that who exist in the world.

Cafe des Psaumes is located in the Jewish quartier, just down the street from Paris’ best falafel (Lenny Kravitz tells no lies, people.) You can get coffee for one euro and hot chocolate for two euro (unheard of, as far as I’m concerned,) sit in a lofted upper level, and enjoy the buzz of old, Jewish men all around you. The people and atmosphere here are GOOD.

Loustic has the best espresso I’ve had in the city so far. It’s lounge-y and comfortable, though it doesn’t have a whole lot of seating. Also, there are mirrors everywhere, so if you’re having an especially self-obsessed day, this is your jam.

I hit Ten Belles and Fondation in the same day and loved both. Ten Belles was especially impressive. I ordered a regular mug of brewed coffee, which was brought to me as soon as a fresh batch was brewed. Ten minutes later, however, the barista came back to me to say that he had tasted the batch and wasn’t happy with it. Despite the fact that I was already halfway through my mug, he replaced it with a better brew. I dig a cafe that cares about its quality that much. Also, just across the street from them is a place called Mystery Tattoo Club, so you KNOW the neighborhood is good.
Fondation’s location is fantastic–it’s on a gorgeous, quiet side street, making its outside seating ideal (did I mention it hit 55 and sunny in Paris this week?) The coffee is good, the furniture is homemade (says the internet) and my only complaint about either of these two spots is that neither one has wi-fi.

The Cafe des Petits Freres is the second of my coffee highlights. I never would have found this place on my own.  The uncle with whom I was staying for the first part of my time in Paris volunteers there around once a week and invited me to come along. I didn’t ask too many questions, and so was originally under the impression that we would be serving food at a soup kitchen-type establishment. Wrong. In fact, it is a neighborhood cafe, run entirely by volunteers, that offers extraordinarily low prices in an extraordinarily expensive city. Hot drinks are available for between 45 and 65 centimes (less than 1 USD) and a 1,5 euro breakfast is offered that consists of: croissant or tartine (a sizable piece of baguette, sliced,) any hot beverage, and a large glass of orange juice. Jam, honey, butter, milk, all available. Anywhere else that meal would START at 6 euro.
And upon arriving, it didn’t take long for me to realize that volunteering here looks like turning barista for the morning. Having spent the entire week romanticizing the idea of moving to Paris to get in on the international barista scene, this was heaven and I dove in. The clientele that we spent our morning with are kind and friendly, with a lot of regulars. All are welcome at LPF, regardless of circumstance. The homeless and low-income communities are the people who benefit greatly, but you could walk in wearing all Helmut Lang and no one would think twice about serving you.
It’s not fancy–we make everything with Nespresso machines–so there’s no intimidation factor, no enormous menus to question. Simple, good offerings. When I asked about coming back to volunteer more, I was received with open arms and given a specific Friday morning assignment, as well as told that I could show up whenever I like and work would be found for me, even if that just means having a coffee with clients.
I highly recommend this to anyone traveling in Paris. Even if you don’t volunteer, it’s inexpensive, and it’s a good opportunity to be reminded that this city is not all lux and lights.


2 responses to “Parisian Coffee Culture (as I know it)

  1. Yummy blog entry Gretchen……une cafe, deux cafe….. thank you for sharing your adventures. I check up on them at least 4 times a week ♥
    Love you.

  2. Hey, Gretchen, your old — literally, about to turn 76 — friend finnnnallly found your commentary. Loved this coffee blog. I can just see you womaning the espresso machine, greeting all comers in French, no less, and turning out the little cups of dark goodness. Love it. And miss you so much. The guy who took your place at Roos is nice, but he sure ain’t YOU! Keep writing.

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