I love – I mean really, really love – a good cup of coffee. I can probably count on one hand the things I love more than coffee. Let’s see…
… and the list peters out after that. Other “F” words (like “Freedom” and “Football” – get your mind out of the gutter!) don’t make the cut above my beloved cup o’ joe. This means that if I had to choose between sipping a good java while living under a Stalinist dictatorship where the national pastime was cricket and having zero coffee in a place full of freedom and football and rainbows and sunshine, I’d take the dictator and cricket.
This isn’t to say I’m a coffee snob. I’m not. I don’t have a Breville or De’Longhi espresso machine perched on my kitchen counter. I don’t own a conical burr grinder. After almost a decade of living a long, long ways away from the veritable coffee-colored heaven of the cloudy, café-lined streets of Seattle where there seems to be an indie coffee roaster on just about every street corner, I’ve become very accustomed to drinking whatever I can find whenever I can find it. At this point in my life, I’m going to just shut up and guzzle my brown sludge wherever I can find it.
For coffee lovers, the gut instinct is to think that the cafés in Paris are full of wonderful coffee with all sorts of earthy, warm notes. After all, Paris is pretty much ground zero for cafés and with such a fantastic culinary history, it just stands to reason that the coffee is really, really good.
But it’s not. Not at all. In fact, the average café in Paris serves some of the most sub-par coffee I’ve ever had. A lot of this is to do with Café Richard.
Café Richard is the coffee you’ll sip at most Paris cafés and it’s not very tasty. Everyone knows this. Your average coffee connoisseur knows this. The lady at your neighborhood boulangerie knows this. Even the café owner knows this. So why is Café Richard seemingly everywhere? It has to do with their business model. What they do is they give espresso machines and all the glassware a café needs to make and serve coffee when the café opens for free in exchange for a contract that locks that café in to buying the over-roasted and overly-acidic coffee that Café Richard supplies.
It’s a deal with the coffee devil and most cafés in Paris make it.
The indie coffee roasters and cafés that specialize in a fantastic cup of coffee that are found seemingly everywhere around the U.S. are just making headway into the Parisian café culture. Café Coutume, Cuillier, and La Caféothèque are all really, really great cafés and whenever possible, that’s where I head out for my java fix.
Problematically, not a single one of the really good cafés are in my neighborhood.
Which brings me to the question: If I love coffee so much and if there are a few really great choices around Paris, what the hell was I doing at a Starbucks in Paris with Zef?
Well… yesterday afternoon, the temperatures soared to 100 (that’s 40 Celsius for you people that speak in Celsius) and in our southwest-facing apartment with huge windows and no climate control, it gets HOT. I needed someplace to go with Zef so we could both stop sweating. For the obvious reasons, going anywhere on the Metro, or even the bus for that matter, was a no-go. Our choices around the neighborhood were limited and the icy coolness of a frappuccino with the boon of good air conditioning was just too much too pass up.
As I sat there, sipping on the kind of coffee beverage that a true coffee snob would turn their nose up at, spooning apple compote into Zef’s mouth, my eyes wandered over to the large photo canvasing the wall of the Starbucks. It’s a sepia photo of the first ever Starbucks café at Pike Place Market. This is the café that really started the café revolution and without it, I don’t know if Seattle would have Slate, Victrola, Vivace, Zoka or my go-to favorite, Café Vita. It got me in a strangely reflective mood where I was thinking about what it means to have your local café and how far these coffee beans travel to make it into your mug. Coffee culture has its roots around the world, something like our son, I thought. That’s something special, something that links us together, even if your local neighborhood café that day is a Starbucks.