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Nov 3, 2009 07:04 AM

Spoiled Seattlite looking for good coffee roaster in Paris

I am not a frequent drinker of coffee, but when I do make it at home, I really like good coffee. I have visited a number of brûleries and been sorely disappointed. Once I was even driven to buy a bag of Sumatra at Starbucks out of sheer desperation.

I am in the Marais for a few more weeks, but will travel anywhere to pick up some good beans.

I should note that while I live part of the year in Seattle, I am actually spoiled by a wonderful, small roaster in the mountains of north central Washington. Best coffee I`ve found anywhere.

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  1. Try Verlet, 256, Rue Saint Honoré, 1st arr. Open 9 AM to 7 PM (Mon-Sat).

    1. It sounds like something that depends on taste a lot. In any case, my provider is La Brulerie des Ternes, rue Poncelet in the 17th. There's also a pretty extraordinary expresso place on rue des Petits Champs, the size of my closet, but I can't remember the name or exact number.

      22 Replies
      1. re: souphie

        I often go to Poncelet for cheese at Alléosse. I did try the Brulerie des Ternes once but was disappointed. I asked for a coffee bean that might be like a Sumatra, since they didn`t actually have any from Sumatra. That is, full bodied and chocolatey (my unprofessional terminology). What they gave me was a bit thin and more bitter, nothing like a Sumatra. Maybe they didn`t really know what Sumatra was like and I didn`t know what else to ask for.

        1. re: RandyB

          Or maybe Sumatra is just a name. The way to get the coffee you want in that place is either to describe it as you just did or to smell it as you can.

          In that case, full bodied and chocolate would well describe their Papua New Guinea coffee.

          1. re: souphie

            Sumatra is an Indonesian island. Coffees from there are often described as "earthy." Of course, quality depends on the grower as well as the roaster. I don't really have a good sense of PNG coffee. Since I need some cheese anyway, maybe I'll go to rue Poncelet later or tomorrow morning and try it.


            1. re: souphie

              I made it to Ternes on Sunday. The PnG had been roasted about 10 days before, so I skipped that. I asked what was most recent, and the woman said the Moka Harrar had been roasted the previous day, so I bought that.

              Generally, Harrar coffees are less strong flavored than I like, but freshness was the goal. I think the Bruleries des Ternes did a good job. A lighter roast for a lighter flavored bean is appropriate. This is not a variety or roast for expresso so I did it with a filter.

              While I would have expected some off-gassing even two days after roasting with Moka Harrar, I didn't see it. But the aroma fresh ground was good, and so was the taste. Next time I'll try the PnG.

              Incidentally, here's some more info that maybe one or two readers may find interesting. The Ethiopian Gov’t made some difficult changes that “democratize” the bean supply by seeking to remove the farmer’s name from the beans and enter them into a generic category that makes tracing a coffee lot by cup characteristics impossible. It supposedly democratizes the supply of beans, of which Ethiopia exports much, but totally ignores the “specialty” market that has contributed much to Ethiopia’s reputation. An exporter can acquire beans to satisfy an importer’s request, but the cup quality can’t be known until the beans are physically acquired. Farmer’s who don’t get recognized for their careful prep, really don’t have any incentive for careful prep.

              (Info on Ethiopia provided by my coffee expert friend in the mountains of Washington state:

          2. re: souphie

            Well, I didn't make it quite as far as rue Poncelet. I stopped at Verlet. After a long discussion, I ended up with a blend of Indonésie Java Jampitt and Moka Harrar d’Ethiopie. In other words, the classic American cliche in coffee: Moka-Java. I'll report back after I've brewed some. Then perhaps I'll try the PNG coffee from Ternes.

            I asked why they, and as far as I know no one else in Paris other than Starbucks, carries Sumatra. The man who seemed like he might be the owner said he wasn't a big fan of it. Too earthy.

            It was also interesting to note the way they roast coffee is more like NYC (e.g., Zabars) than the west coast of the US (e.g., Pete's and Starbucks). The roast is a lot lighter here and in NYC.

            Afterwards, I followed the suggestions of David Lebovitz about where to drink a good cup.
            I visited Illy near the Opéra Garnier and Malongo in the Galeries Lafayette Gourmet.

            Lebovitz thinks: "A real espresso should be about a tablespoon of coffee with a layer of lighter froth floating on top." Sorry, but I'm not going to pay $3 for a tablespoon of expresso. That`s what I got at Illy. In any case, the full cup (2+ tablespoons?) at Malongo was thicker, richer tasting, and had a better crema (froth). Also slightly cheaper.

            1. re: RandyB

              Randy, have you been to Cafeotheque on the Quai? I live in the Marais and love my coffee roasted here.

              1. re: WendyLyn

                Hadn`t heard of it. This may surprise you, given my posts above, but I'm more of a tea drinker than a coffee drinker.

                My family's apt is on a small street off the rue St. Paul, not a long walk from the Caféothèque. I`ll check it out one day.

                I have to say, though, that the home page featuring bird-shit coffee is a real turnoff. Most coffee experts who don`t profit from selling civet cat or bird shit coffee say it`s just an expensive affectation, and not very good coffee to boot.

                1. re: RandyB

                  Hello Randy, wondering if you got a chance to go in, despite the terrible website?

                  1. re: WendyLyn

                    No, somehow I never made it to the Caféothèque. Next trip, perhaps.

              2. re: RandyB

                IMO David is wrong. An espresso is approx 30ml of coffee and crema. (and generally extracted in approx 30 seconds - that's how I calibrate my machine). A tablespoon is generally only about 15ml so if anything he is talking about a Ristretto. Is the "lighter froth" he is referring to the "crema".

                1. re: PhilD

                  Just to be contrarian, the Instituto nazionale says it should be 25 ml. And that's total volume, so if you have a good crema, I could see the black part of the coffee being as little as 15 ml. In any case, you know you've found a winner if the bar doesn't fill the cup to the top; it's easier to find a proper espresso in Bavaria than it is in Paris ...

                  1. re: tmso

                    I was at the lovely, belle époque Café Charbon, next to the music venue Nouveau Casino on the rue Oberkampf in the 11th today. I sat on a stool at the original zinc counter. I ordered a café allongé. Wait, no snide comments, please. It was just to dip a croissant into.

                    Anyway, I watched as the serveur (I hate that word "barista") made a dozen or more expressos. I timed how long the extraction of a simple expresso took. It was only 9 seconds. They never ran clear water through the machine, at least not between making at least a dozen coffees. Nor did they clean the holder of the grinds. The just shook out the old grinds and put new ones in.


                2. re: RandyB

                  You make a good point regarding regional and roasting preferences, west and east coast US and various points abroad. We made peace by having Malongo blend several African coffees to approximate our Peet's Kenyan/Ethiopian blend. Also their St André des Arts location was convenient for us.

                  1. re: RandyB

                    True, coffee in Parisian cafés- often including those serving Illy - tends to be disgusting. Often, the problem's not the coffee but the grinding stones that are worn down. I have found that if you ask for it "serré" ("restetto" in Italian) it CAN make it taste better...But you'll get less...

                    ...Saying that, you can drink as much coffee as you want, and there is no authentic "espresso", though in Rome, a normal shot is far smaller than a Parisian "café serré", but I think what Lebovitz is getting at is quality over quantity. I had my yearly visit to Starbucks yesterday. Spent 3 euros (5 dollars?) on a small cappuccino - what seemed like a gallon of so-so coffee with what looked, felt, and tasted like liquid polystyrene floating on top.

                    1. re: RandyB

                      Sorry, Dodo, but the venerable Verlet was a total bust. The first clue was the open bins at the shop. The second was the dry feel of the beans. The third, and definitive sign, was the failure of the off-gassing test. These beans simply were not freshly roasted. Since I had a blend of two kinds, that meant neither was fresh.

                      The real failure, however, was the aroma and taste. I love the smell of good beans when I've just ground them. These could have been a can of Maxwell House. The flavor was equally uninteresting.

                      Next I will give Brulerie des Ternes and it's New Guinea coffee a try, and possibly the Caféothèque. If all else fails, it will be a bag of Sumatra beans from Starbucks.

                    2. re: souphie

                      Water is also an issue. They have sweet water on the west coast of the US, and to my tastes you get poor results if you use it in a caffetiera. When in California, I use bottled mineral water.

                      1. re: tmso

                        That great coffee roaster and maker I mentioned, in my post starting this thread, has some fancy water filter system attached to his machine. I think it is especially designed to work with expresso machines. The water comes from a well near a beautiful river, by the way.

                        1. re: RandyB

                          As someone who lives in Italy most of the year, in all my times in France (and particularly Paris), I've never found a decent cup of coffee. For the French to try to make coffee, is similar to the Italians trying to imitate the French in terms of pastry. The Italians are rank amateurs at best while the French are masters. There are three things the French do not know how to make: pasta, risotto and coffee. They should concentrate on all the other things they make so well.
                          BTW, a true ristretto has almost no crema and certainly not 40% of what is in the cup as tmso says above.

                          1. re: allende

                            I remember about 20 years ago when an Italian immigrant opened a coffee shop and roaster in Seattle he called, naturally, Torrefazione Italia. The company still exists, but only as a subsidiary of Seattle Coffee.

                            He spoke virtually no English, but we did have French as a common language. What he told me was that in Italy, all coffees are blends. He thought the American practice of serving single origin coffee was simply rediculous. Like making wine from only one grape. I must say his expressos were excellent.

                            Having said that, I can't agree completely with you about national abilities, allende. There are now many dedicated coffee producers in the US whose product is of the highest quality. In part it is because of the trend to deal directly with the coffee bean producers to ensure high quality, and careful, precise roasting and blending perfected over a long period of experimentation. I don't see any reason why a French person couldn't do that, although admittedly I haven't found him or her yet.

                            As for pastries, my own specialty, the true French masters are in the minority. The average patisserie produces just ok product. And the average croissant has become simply inedible. There is a baker of viennoiseries in Seattle whose croissants would be in the top few percent here in Paris, and he is an American trained in Switzerland! (I admit that most other Seattle croissants fall in the not worth eating category.)

                            1. re: allende

                              I would suggest that it is less to do with ability more to do with national taste. The Italians like a coffee to taste one way, the French another, thus the purveyors of coffee respond accordingly. Whilst I prefer Italian style coffee, I would take a bad French coffee over the ubiquitous foamy milk drinks masquerading as coffee in the UK/US.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                While this may be true, like others on this thread have mentioned, in general, the proper methodology is missing in France (and the French - I've not had a good cup in St. Marin, Guadeloupe or anywhere else French have made me an espresso - this is not to say that every cup of espresso made by an Italian has been spot on, either!).

                                OMO, it makes sense that one can only compare "tastes" when you've ruled out discrepancies in methodology.

                                1. re: orangette

                                  Obviously there is good and bad technique. But doesn't the technique vary from country to country based on national taste? So a middle eastern coffee is going to be different to Italian which in turn will be different to North American (i.e. a preference for filter or drip coffee). Thus it isn't surprising there is a difference between Italian and French coffee.

                      2. What method are you using to make your coffee: home espresso machine, moka pot, French press? I live in the West Coast US (San Francisco) and the the current trend of the high-end newer roaster such as Blue Bottle and Ritual is to roast their coffee lighter than that of Peets or Starbuck. Their theory is that dark roasting mask the nuances of coffee. But I don't find the lighter roast suitable for espresso even though the resulting brew is smooth but lack the thick viscosity. The making of an excellent espresso cannot be too complicated because from my experience, Italy uniformly makes a good brew where as France does not. I've drank my share of espresso in Italy and I don't think I have ever see them follow the rules you alluded to: running clear water through the machine, clean the filter or the 30 second extraction rule yet they made excellent espresso. I know one reason why espresso is so bad in most French cafe is their use of straight Robusta beans. These beans are cheaper and grown mostly in the former French colonies of Africa. The positive is that the resulting brew has a lot of body but the negatives are it is bitter and barely has any aroma. The few places I can get a good espresso in Paris are in top restaurants where they know to use Arabica natural and Arabica washed beans. Maybe what an above poster is correct that the French are so used to drinking bitter/sour thick espresso that it has become their preference.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: PBSF

                          Today, on the last day of my a relatively long visit to Paris, I chanced upon a new (for me) coffee shop in the rue de Bretagne, near the fun little Marché des Enfants Rouges. It's one of seven or so boutiques called les Comptoirs de Richard. I only took a quick look and smell inside. The roasted beans looked very good - on the darker roasts a nice sheen that I have not seen much of at the other roasters I've visited. The bins were covered in glass, again unlike other roasters, whose beans are usually exposed to the air. That is not a nice way to store roasted coffee.

                          So two good signs, but I will leave it to others to try or await my return in Spring.

                          1. re: RandyB

                            Les Comptoirs Richard is a Parisian chain. In fact, they supply a lot of restaurants too.

                            I am unfortunately not equipped with a grinder, so I buy ground coffee, and I'm absolutely not an expresso connoisseur, but I generally like their coffees.

                            1. re: RandyB

                              You have probably drunk their coffee many times in restaurants, often accompanied by a wrapped dark chocolate also bearing their brand name. There is one outlet almost across the street from Gregory Renard on St. Dominique.

                              1. re: mangeur

                                When I come back to Paris in spring, I will bring some coffee from my small roasting company in the mountains of Washington. I will invite the coffee lovers here for a tasting at my apt.

                                1. re: RandyB

                                  Thanks for the offer. If our travel schedule coincides in the spring, I'll bring an extra stash of Blue Bottle and we'll enjoy some coffee.

                                  1. re: PBSF

                                    I will arrive in Paris on March 18. I'll bring some freshly roasted Blue Star (brand) coffees from the small roaster in the mountains of north central Washington that I have written about.

                                    I would be happy to share with other coffee lovers for a tasting. I'm not sure of the best way to post this invitation without crossing over Chowhound rules.

                                    PSBF, your Blue Bottle would be welcome, too, as would LaGentille's ED. Unfortunately, I do not have an expresso maker at my apt, so it would have to be filter or French press. Unless someone else would like to host and has the appropriate equipment.

                              2. re: RandyB

                                Let us know what you think! I'm heading to Paris in late Spring (May 12-22).

                                1. re: RandyB

                                  Thank you. We have just arrived in Paris and despaired at the coffee for sale in markets. Checked this forum out, Googled and Comptoir Richard was 10 yards away!

                              3. You all will think I'm crazy, but if you want halfway decent coffee at home, go to an ED, buy the ED brand of espresso (package "sous-vide"), and you will not run all over Paris spending "big euros". Why does everyone think they have to be in Paris anyway??? It's just full of Parigots !!!

                                PS......I always use a Melitta filter system for everyday coffee. My motto: "the simpler the better"

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: LaGentille

                                  As an Italian-Torontonian, I have had a miserable time finding "good" coffee in France or St. Martin whenever I've been, so I usually bring my own...this last time I brought Intelligentsia roasted beans (I mention Intelligentisia only for those who are THAT into it) but there was nowhere to grind the beans on the entire island, so off I went in search of a "good" espresso. I even went to the airport at 8 pm one night as I was desperate for a coffee! I ended up throwing the beans into my gelato (God bless the Sicilian who moved to St. Martin and started up the local gelato...but I digress).

                                  I'll be in Paris May 12-23 and would L-O-V-E to join anyone in a coffee tasting!!! Not sure if including my e-mails is against Chow policy???

                                2. We have found Carte Noir brand in the Monoprix, etc. to make coffee good enough that we take it home with us. In a three mug machine I use 8 to 10 measures and I use half decaf and half regular. This way you get the strong flavor without the shakes.

                                  Buying coffee out is to pay for a spot from which to people watch and enjoy the sun or the rain when you need a rest.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: hychka

                                    This is true - but it would be nice to enjoy what you're drinking, no?

                                    I assume we're talking cups of coffee versus espresso...? Hychka, I don't know where you reside, but I am more than happy to share some coffee with you when I'm in Paris (May 12 - 22). I've managed to get in touch with another Chowhound poster and we're meeting up.

                                    Feel free to be in touch,

                                    1. re: hychka

                                      And thank you for the tip about the Carte Noir! I agree also with LaGentille that you don't have to run all over town and spend big bucks to get a decent cup. Espresso and all its mutations, on the other hand, is a different matter altogether. I love a good Americano, so it would be nice to go somewhere that makes an excellent espresso.

                                      Back to LaGentille's comment, I'll admit that there have been times at home in Toronto when I don't have time or energy to run around for XYZ coffee and pick up beans at my local grocery store. Guess what? To my surprise, the coffee's been excellent. It's not Fair Trade nor organic, but it's good in a pinch. I'm going to be in Paris for almost two weeks, so I'm going to bring my own coffee (unfortunately, pre-ground as I don't know if the apt. I'm staying in will have a grinder...and if you read my post about not finding a grinder anywhere in St.Martin last fall, you'll understand why!).