When I lived in Paris 30+ years ago, I had my favourite haunts. They were usually those typical Paris bars with a terrace perfect for people-watching, and they were mostly near my various places of work near Odeon or Place Monge in the 5th arrondissement.
I don’t think any of my regular spots for coffee (I never drank tea in France in those days – it just wasn’t good enough to pay good money for) are still there, sadly. But anyway, in recent years a new specialist coffee scene has grown in Paris, often brought in by immigrants, whether from coffee-growing nations like Guatemala or Vietnam or from those big coffee-consumers like the Americans and Aussies.
The great thing about Paris, compared to many capital cities, is that you can walk to and from most places without exerting yourself too much. So on this trip, with less than 48 hours in town, we wanted to keep ourselves to places which are within walking distance of our hotel (near place Chatelet). And we more or less managed that, finding three great spots for coffee (with more to come in the next blog post on the tea scene in Paris).
The first two places I’d found by seeing who came highest in last year’s French barista championships. Trouble was, in classic Paris style, Fragments Coffee in the 3rd arrondissement was still closed for summer holidays; while Reves d’abyssinie had closed down in the spring. So much for my crafty search methods…
The day was saved by a rather good ex-pat website called goodcoffeeinparis.com, from which I found Loustic. At just five minutes walk from the Pompidou Centre and on the edge of the Marais, it was perfectly-placed; and it has a great name, too.
There we met Channa who, after an initial fluent exchange in French, revealed that he actually came from north London. And we enjoyed our experience at Loustic so much that we returned for breakfast on Day 2 too.
Channa explained that he went for a Belgian roaster (Caffe Nation) because he wanted a halfway house between the stronger, heavy roasters of southern Europe and the lighter roasts of the north. It certainly made for a delightfully smooth coffee experience.
But Loustic is also lovely for its laid-back atmosphere and exposed-brick décor. The very fact that A. got her knitting out there twice is testament to what a good place this is to hang out for a while sipping great coffee (or tea – he gets good loose leaf tea in too) and people-watching.
Second port of call was somewhere we had found by chance as we went for a riverside stroll on our first evening: La Caféotheque is run by a mother/daughter team from Guatemala.
According to Channa, this was the place where the whole specialist coffee scene in Paris was born. And owner Gloria still runs regular classes and meet-ups for budding baristas and experts from allied areas like wine-tasting, foodies and oil-testers.
Gloria’s daughter Christina was front of house when we passed by for our excellent mid-morning coffee (a real kick to this one and rich to the palate). Standing under the beautiful mural of Guatemala’s national bird (the quetzal), she was keen to show us the range of coffees on offer (lots, but not all, from Guatemala – none of them a blend!) and to explain how the business had grown.
It is indeed a wonderful story, with her mother Gloria having previously been Guatemalan Ambassador to France, but packing the diplomatic life in to follow a passion she had for coffee, and to do her bit to help a national industry that had been devastated by damage from Hurricane Mitch.
The rest is history. But we strongly recommend this place, with its arty feel, its variety of coffee on offer (not to mention delicious Tarte Tatin), and that slightly exotic Guatemalan décor.
We made a lovely connection with Gloria, too, when she took up our offer of joining us for lunch at The Tea Caddy tea room, just a stone’s throw across the Seine – but more of that in the tea blog entry next…
On Day 2, we ventured over to the Left Bank, which sounds about as bad for coffee shops as London south of the Thames is for tube lines. We had been aiming at one of the coffee shops all the experts go to, but a trip to Coffee Coutume in the 7th arrondissement would have involved a metro ride so we dropped the idea and went instead to Dose – Dealer de Café.
Sitting half way down the lovely rue Mouffetard, this is a cosy coffee shop in the 5th arrondissement. And it’s run by French guys (we met JB – or Jean-Baptiste – and Grégoire) who get their beans roasted in Brittany. We did hear a bit of English spoken in here too, but it had much more of a local French feel to it than the other venues we’d tried.
Similar to Loustic in shape, with a long, narrow layout; walls lined with old newspapers and seats outside to watch people passing by. Again, if we lived on this side of town, this would be our regular spot, for sure (though I had a feeling the milk used in the cappuccino might just have been UHT).
So we didn’t make it to Telescope or to Ten Bells, which are the most famous artisan coffee shops in Paris; nor did we taste any coffee roasted by the Ten Bells team in Belleville, which was a shame.
But we did keep to our promise of finding great places for a coffee within walking distance of Chatelet. And we made some lovely new friends or contacts in the process. Once again, coffee proved to be a great way to connect while on our travels.
Our tea in Paris story follows next…