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How to do coffee, the Parisian way

Eiffel Tower Paris, the iron tower gleams in the afternoon sun

At some point in history, it just became a fact that everything is more stylish in Paris. Of course, lot of other cities have their own version of “cool”, but there seems to a be a special way in which the Parisians do things that make everything seem so effortless and so… chic.

Coffee is no exception. Compared to the Italians (who maintain that the process of drinking an espresso should take no more than 2 minutes), the Australians (who insist on having coffee with a side of brunch) and the Americans with their beloved filter brews, the French offer a relaxed, no-nonsense approach to the art of coffee culture.

Coffee enthusiast and author of this post Mike James recently spent a few months in Paris, on a project with European coffee packaging specialists, The Bag Broker and the below is a taster of what he learned.

Coffee is a moment of serenity

Ditch the flasks and cut up your drive-through cafe loyalty card. The first coffee of the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day, and in Paris, that means it’s calm and well-planned. Instead of multi-tasking while you drink your coffee (which is purely for fuel in the first place), you need to head to a cafe and sit down with a newspaper to properly absorb everything without distraction.

So… you have to sit in a cafe to enjoy coffee?

People sitting outside a cafe with a green awning being served by waiter in a suit with bow tie and traditional apron

Even better – a lot of cafes have seating outside the front. This is usually arranged as pairs of chairs sharing a small table, both facing outward onto the street. People-watching over your beverage isn’t just incidental; it’s expected. Plus, assuming you’ve made the effort to adopt some Parisian style, it makes sure your outfit is glimpsed by everyone walking past.

Coffee and cake? Non.

You might be starting to picture yourself sat outside a cute bistro with a nice cup of coffee and a pretty pastry on the side. Well, guess again. It’s actually very unusual to be able to buy coffee and cake in the same place in Paris, with separate patisseries selling the sweet treats you’re imagining. If you’re desperate for a snack, you might be able to get a croissant – look out for locals breaking off pieces and dipping them straight into the bowl of their cafe au lait.

So, what coffee do you order in Paris?

Waiter in traditional attire in Paris serves clients at a terraced cafe

The standard coffee in Paris is an espresso (with no milk), however there are other options available. Here’s a rundown of the acceptable orders…

  • Un expresso. Short and sweet, this is your standard Parisian coffee that you’ll be able to purchase anywhere.
  • Un serré. If you’re looking for something stronger, this is made with half the water as the espresso.
  • Un allongé. This has double the amount of water as an espresso – perfect for a longer drink.
  • Café Americain. This is the most similar to an American filter coffee, but you won’t find it everywhere.
  • Caré crème. Made with frothy milk, this drink is like a latté or cappuccino.

What about a shot of vanilla?

You won’t catch a respectable Parisian adding artificial flavours to their coffee. That goes for vanilla, hazelnut, peppermint, whipped cream or anything else. Brown sugar is acceptable, but no aspartame sweeteners.

Where are the best coffee shops in Paris?

Every district has a unique style and its own special independent coffee shops so, if you’re visiting Paris, your best bet is to explore each area you go to. That being said, here are some top choices to try out:

  • Angelina, 1st Arrondissement (and other locations). If you’re desperate for cake with your coffee, don’t miss Angelina. Known for exceptional Mont Blanc puddings and their wonderfully rich hot chocolates, it’s the epitome of elegance.
  • Café Charlot, Le Marais. This vegetarian-friendly cafe is an excellent spot for watching people wader along the Rue de Bretegne.
  • Republique of Coffee, Place de la République. A peek into the huge Mexican influence taking over the French capital, this offers contemporary design with an ever-changing menu.
  • Honor, 8th Arrondissement. Fashion lovers will be delighted to find this buzzing little coffee stand in the courtyard of Comme des Garçons. In summer, it’s perfect for grabbing a light bite and a spot of sunshine.
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