HOME > Chowhound > France >


Paris coffee question- am I limited to cafes?

This will sound like a noob-ish question, but, well, I guess it is, so please forgive...
I was scouring the streets of le Marais today for a good cup of coffee, and totally struck out. Ended up buying an espresso at a boulangerie after all else failed. I am well aware of the Parisian cafe tradition- but as a tourist, I really don't want to spend time sitting down at a cafe every time I want a cup. And yet it also seems silly to go to Starbucks when I'm in Paris. I sort of assumed there would be incredible coffee everywhere in this city, but I guess I also assumed it would accessible in take-away paper cup form. Anyone have thoughts on this? Or is a cafe my only choice for a good morning cup?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The 'parisian coffee's awful 'v' parisian coffee's the beans knees' debate breaks out regularly on these boards, usually descending into open warfare.

    All you need to know is that generally it's awful.

    Saying that, a lot of places sell coffee to go in plastic beakers. If you don't speak French, just ask for a "café à emporter s'il vous plait." or a "un café creme à emporter."

    If you're in the Marais, Pozzetto, the gelato place on the rue de la Verrerie serves very good coffee.

    10 Replies
      1. re: vielleanglaise

        Paris coffee is no longer what it was. Now, it's usually bad and the decent places are inconsistent, especially in tourist areas. I guess the places make a lot of money on pulling lousy robusto in small dosages, or some other kind of almost instant, over-processed, industry solution.

        The only thing worse is ordering a beer at cafes. Most places can't manage a clean glass and Heineken, Stella and Kro are lowest common denominator to the extent of not being pleasurable to drink anymore.

        What's the world coming to?

        1. re: Busk

          I used to be able to get DAB, a fine German lager, on tap in many cafes; don't see the name anymore. I guess money rules.

          1. re: Oakglen

            not sure why, but it's not easy to get German beer of any kind on tap in France. Fischer, Kro, 1664, all the French beers, and once in a while a Belgian beer, but darned difficult to get anything else...and that goes for English and Irish beers, as well.

            1. re: sunshine842

              Not to hijack the thread, but there is a lot of fake Belgian (Blanche) and fake stout (Beamish) to be had. It's a result of economics.

              1. re: Busk

                Blanche is a type of Belgian beer, in what way is it 'fake'?

                1. re: Ptipois

                  Blanche isn't specifically Belgian. It's wheat beer. Witbier in German where it's also made.

                  While I think with its reputation, it's fair to critcise the coffee here, Paris isn't and has never been a real beer town. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

                  For beer fiends, many of the bars and cafés around the Gare du Nord serve Belgian beers, sometimes on tap.

                  Perhaps I frequent high class joints, but I've never had the problem with dirty glasses.

                  Sure, there isn't the same choice as in England, but most places serve at least two kinds of cheap "blonde", plus a stronger brew.

                  The galopin serving seems to have died, which is sad.

                  1. re: vielleanglaise

                    I was speaking about a specific brand of Blanche that has become ubiquitous and is terrible, might be "Blanche de Bruxelles" or "Blanche de Brugges."

                    The problem with the other international lagers tasting like crap is a worldwide phenom.

                    I've actually gone off beer in Paris unless it's at a beer place like those you've mentioned.

                    1. re: vielleanglaise

                      I know nothing about beer but that never stopped me from commenting.
                      "Paris isn't and has never been a real beer town." Maybe not, but I'm appalled and impressed by the amount of beer and colas in a land where there's a glut of wine.

                      1. re: John Talbott

                        Just came back from Ardèche. Had an Ardèche cola, called Colardèche, that was quite good.
                        Not surprising, considering how excellent the Ardèche tap water is already…

        2. Go into a bar/cafe, and stand at the counter. They serve coffee quickly, and for less money than sitting at a table. You will find this is how most Parisian's drink coffee. You will be in and out of the place in no time at all. Yes, you can get take-away but it is quite rare to see people strolling along with a big cup of coffee - that is quite a US thing. Sitting at a terrace is popular for tourists and for locals who want to linger and read the paper, thus service is relaxed and slower, stand at the bar for a quick coffee.

          Coffee quality? Depends entirely on your taste (I don't mind it). Lots of countries with far worse coffee (i.e. the majority of the US), a few countries with far better coffee (i.e. Italy). What is indisputable is the milky drink that masquerades as coffee in most US/UK chains doesn't resemble French coffee.

          1. Most cafes sell coffees to go, at the bar. Just ask. As for good coffee, it's basically roulette, except for a few places like the one VA mentions of Gocce di Caffe in the passage des Panoramas.

            4 Replies
            1. re: souphie

              Yep. The coffee in a beaker thing has become generalised - you'll often see neigbouring shopkeepers or workers buying coffee like this.

              BTW, judging from your posts and requests (street food etc). you may like to check out the rue du Faubourg St Denis area between the Porte St Denis and the Boulevard de Magenta...There's even Lanni, a coffee brulerie at about number 54 on the street where they do GOOD coffee and cafe gourmand to go.

              1. re: vielleanglaise

                "Yep. The coffee in a beaker thing has become generalised - you'll often see neighbouring shopkeepers or workers buying coffee like this." That does surprise me, I know my office and my clients offices had coffee bars or free Nespresso style machines where workers would congregate (often close to an open air area for the smokers) and chat usually as the first activity of a working day.

                I agree shopkeepers etc do get takeaways, and stand at airports etc serve coffee in disposable cups. But IMO it is rare to see people scurrying back and forth to offices with take-away coffee. I would say is is an exception rather than the norm - stopping for coffee is still as much about the social interaction as it is about consuming coffee.

                1. re: PhilD

                  20 years ago coffee to go in Paris in a plastic cup was rare. Today it isn't.

                  1. re: vielleanglaise

                    Similarly 20 years ago there were few take-aways in London, Costa, Nero, Starbucks etc. had colonised the high street. Compare and contrast the changes over the last twenty years between Paris and London, yes take-away is more prevalent than it was in Paris but still nothing like the coffee "culture" (that is tricky to write!) in the UK.
                    For my taste the average French coffee is preferable to much that is available on the high street in both the US and UK.

                    I am also quite intrigued that people can drink coffee all day; more than two or three cups of decent coffee gives me a caffeine rush. That aid I live in Sydney where good coffee is a religion.

            2. Less than the ubiquious Starbuck is a French chain, Columbus Cafe. In the Marais, they have is a kiosk on r. Vielle du Temple, just off r. Ste. Croix de la Bretonnerie; take away only.

              2 Replies
              1. re: PBSF

                that's very close by, will check it out. ty.

                1. re: PBSF

                  At the cafes we frequent each coffee is ground and brewed to order. We all have our preferences in terms which coffee beans we like best; it is true that you don't have a choice at most places. Also, the Columbus Cafes in the seventh have a few chairs and tables; very basic however.

                2. You're on vacation...are you in such a hurry that you can't take 10 minutes for a cup of coffee?

                  I know, I know...it used to drive me nuts that people stared when I walked around with my big thermal mug full of coffee...but now, I really enjoy the chance to just stop for a few minutes and have a cup of coffee in a real china cup that doesn't have a sippy lid.

                  Try it...when in Rome, blah blah blah

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Yes, I hear that. And I am aware of the cultural dynamic at play here. The issue is more that I am a coffee fiend. I drink it almost continuously throughout the day, whether at work, at home, on vacation. So as someone who is also trying to see the sights, as it were, it is not ideal for me to sit down, get table service, etc. every time I need a cup. (Further complicating this is that I'm a New Yorker who is used to very high-end coffee).
                    I appreciate the spirit of what you're saying both here and in response to my "street food" questions. And I certainly am building in time for more leisurely, quintessentially French dining experiences. But there comes a time when a man wants a quick (but houndworthy) sandwich and a good cup of coffee to take on the road while getting his bearings in an immense foreign city.

                    1. re: bennyt

                      I can relate and sitting down in a cafe few times a day can be a real budget buster. And sadly as someone stated, the coffee is nothing special.

                      1. re: PBSF

                        Coffee in a cafe is significantly cheaper than going to Starbuck's (about 2 euros at any ordinary cafe in the city, versus -- and I'm not kidding -- 5-7 euros at Starbucks)...stand inside at the counter/bar if you want to save a little more. Horses for courses, I guess...I'd rather drink a cup of Cafe Richard, Illy, etc., than 95% of the coffee sold in the US...and that includes anything made from the charred bits of nasty that they call beans at Starbucks.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          I am not advocating Starbuck or such, only that I drink a lot of coffee. I know when I sit down at a cafe and order a cafe creme, it is not cheap (and coffee is not cheap where I live in San Francisco). When I am in Paris, I try to limit myself to one sit down a day, otherwise, it is either standup or at my apartment. For me, coffee in Paris is not for taste but the cafferine and for resting/people watching.

                          1. re: PBSF

                            A creme shouldn't cost more than 2E in most places in Paris...2,50 tops...that's about $2.50-$3 at current exchange rates..and that's the upper range. There's always the outliers like Fouquets on the Champs Elysees that manage to zing you 8 euros for a stupid cup of coffee...but since the menus (even for drinks) have to be posted, it's not as though you're going to get blindsided. There's no discount for getting it to go...you pay the standup bar price whether you have a china cup, a paper gobelet, or you lay your head on the bar and have them dispense it right down your throat....

                            You'll get it a little cheaper if you stand at the bar for a few minutes...only a little more if you sit at a table inside...the highest price is outside on the sidewalk. (called renting the view!)

                            Decent coffee isn't ever cheap...I think it's 1,75 at McDonald's...but even they don't give you a paper cup!

                      2. re: bennyt

                        The best way to explore a new country is to live by the local rules rather than try to import your rules. You will always be disappointed that they don't do X the way they do at home. On the other hand, you might find that the locals have some tricks that you've never experienced. Otherwise, you might as well use google street view and walk around Paris that way.

                    2. If anyone is interested, aside from Gocce di Caffe, there are two excellent coffee places in Paris: Café Malongo on rue Saint-André-des-Arts and Brûlerie San José on rue des Petits-Champs.

                      Verlet is one of the renowned brûleries in Paris but the last time I was there the coffee was barely drinkable.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: Ptipois

                        What she says, but I'd add that, even in good places, there never is coffee certainty in Paris. Don't know why.

                        1. re: souphie

                          I can't agree more that the consistency even at the good places is not there. I like Brulerie San Jose and even there, it is not certainly of a good cup.

                          1. re: PBSF

                            Funny, I never had a cup at San Jose or at Malongo that I didn't like.

                                1. re: souphie

                                  Just go to Starbucks more, it's always the same.

                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                    and is guaranteed to make you appreciate whatever cafe des chaussettes you find anywhere else in the city.

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      Right. (The correct expression is "jus de chaussette".)
                                      But I love "café des chaussettes" and I'm not sure I won't borrow it.

                        2. coffee is more a social thing than a "gourmet" thing in Paris.
                          I've never had bad coffee in Paris, but I'm not a purist.

                          Like other wrote, get in a café go to the counter, ask for a "express" and drink it right there; don't bother asking to take out, IMO,it's a waste of good paper cup, and anyway it's not like they gonna serve you a "'Machiato with a double shot with soy latte and chocolate chip" that needs a bucket to serve.


                          1. There was a neat place on the quai de l'Hotel de Ville that made specialty Italian coffees, last time I walked by I didn't see it.
                            There's an Illy place near the opera, rue Scribe maybe, that I think is still there.

                            1. bennyt,

                              It seems to me that you are looking for straight brewed coffee as opposed to espresso type coffee?

                              And you want to be able to take it away a paper cup of 8-12-16 ounces?

                              Seriously, the only place other than Starbucks that comes readily to mind is McDonalds.

                              As far as the Marais specifically, others have mentioned a couple of possibilities, but I think this was answering the question where is good espresso to be found, not good brewed coffee.

                              1. Am not a big coffee guy, but what does the board think of the Nespresso places? They have not been mentioned and l wonder. The one in Ny on 65th and Madison with big sofas and tables in the window were my go to spot for meetings. They were so welcoming, but now l wonder about the coffee. The one here near Le Bon Marche is always very crowded.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                  Very good point. I loath Nespresso for so many reasons, and would applaud if it were wiped from the face of the planet, but like Nuremberg, Xanadu, Red Square their flagship store on the Champs Elysees is a truly amazing place.

                                  1. re: vielleanglaise

                                    This is slightly OT but I've always been curious to know if Nespresso machines allow you to reduce the amount of water so you get real (a la Napoli) espresso.

                                    1. re: John Talbott

                                      Yes. For the manual models, one can pull as short (or as long) as one wants on the fly. For programmables, there is a way to adjust the length of shots.

                                  2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                    DCM - Is it crowded with drinkers or with people stocking up on their pods? When I used to buy coffeee there I always thought the coffee area was a "try before you buy" area rather than a cafe (but this was few years ago).

                                    I am also not a great fan of the Nespresso coffee, however I am usually pleased when I find a machine in a rental apartment as it is a notch up on a cafetiere (I have never been blessed with rental that has a real machine and proper grinder).

                                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                      DCM- Nespresso's coffee really doesn't respond to the OP, at least as I understand his request.

                                      Nespresso machines make espresso-style coffee. A lungo Nespresso capsule only makes about 4 ounces of coffee, and it is created through a different kind of pressure system than a drip, filter or low-tech press.

                                      For someone looking for a "big cup of coffee", one would need several Nespresso capsules. For a separate discussion of what people on the France board think about Nespresso coffee, I would suggest a separate post. Unfortunately, I think it would then be moved to Cookware or some other non-region specific location.

                                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                        The coffee bar at the Nespresso shop near Bon Marche markets itself as "try before you buy" but they charge for the coffee. The line out their door always amazes me. I think their popularity is dued to their marketing, slick design, ease of use and a couple of low priced models. The resulting cup is weak and nothing to speak of. Their lungo capsule that makes a big cup is a joke. A Parisien friend has one and loves it. She can have her after dinner coffee fix at home. There are better capsule/pod machines such as the new Illy but they are more expensive.

                                        1. re: PBSF

                                          I have the model that automatically steams the milk and everything -- I love it -- a very good cup of coffee with no putzing around grinding the beans, tamping it out....just hit the button and you get a very good espresso with very nice crema, a "regular" French-sized coffee again with a very nice crema...and it makes a darned good cappucino/latte. The absolute best of the best? No. But the best available in 60 seconds or less with no faffing around and no mess to clean up? You betcha.

                                          I agree, though...it stinks at Americano. That's what the drip machine on the other end of the counter is for.

                                          I usually shop at the store at l'Opera (it's on my way for several errands....) - they don't sell coffee at the coffee bar, but will give you a cup if you're a Nespresso club member. It is a good way to taste all their new blends before you buy. But the place is always, ALWAYS slammed. I'm leaning heavily toward just ordering online because I spend an hour just waiting in line.

                                      2. I was reading a 'Paris" blog and came upon this...http://www.secretsofparis.com/heather..., does it help? It mentions Columbus Coffee or something like that. Perhaps it is what you are looking for.

                                        1. I'm amazed that this topic always brings out nay sayers calling Parisian coffee "awful". If you live in the US, it just is NOT awful, it's terrific! It's strong, it's made in the italian-made commercial machines, and you drink out of a ceramic cup! (Cars in Europe do NOT have coffee holders! :) )

                                          Starbucks in Paris??? Ewwww! Why, they don't even allow dogs!

                                          14 Replies
                                          1. re: menton1

                                            Menton, I love you babes, but the vote is totally against you considering espressos/espressi. Italy 100, USA 30, France nul.

                                            1. re: John Talbott

                                              I agree Italy is usually good (although my office coffee bar whilst popular wasn't) but I think it is a stretch to put the US above Paris/France. I hear you can get good coffee if you search hard and travel in the US, but you can in Paris as well, and as it is a small city you don't need to travel far. I would argue fairly strongly that I prefer French coffee over US coffee, but that is my personal preference i.e. I don't like volume, nor do I like long milky drinks.

                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                Sadly, most large and university towns in the US have surpassed Paris in coffee a long time ago.

                                                ...and US bakers have been winning the annual intl. bread competition too.

                                                1. re: Busk

                                                  I never trust international competitions - especially the ones the English wines beat the French and English "Champagne" is voted best of the year.

                                            2. re: menton1

                                              There is a limit beyond which a cupful of acrid, acidic, overburnt donkey piss which drills holes in your stomach cannot honestly be described as terrific, and that is precisely what 90 percent of Parisian coffee tastes like.

                                              Italian-made commercial machines are worth nothing if they're not cleaned and checked regularly - a French press will always produce better coffee than a sloppily-maintained espresso machine. Strong is OK, too strong is too strong. Ceramic cups are, well, ceramic cups, the important thing is what you pour into them. And, above all, exceedingly roasted robusta beans have the exact taste of what they are and of the cruel additional treatments they have undergone (hard water, chlorinated water, sometimes both together). Some boiling (not hot) water sent through that and you've got Parisian coffee. There is no mystery about why it is so bad. It is perfectly explainable and well documented (in French, since Parisians do know that their coffee is terrlble but they drink it all the same). The use of over-roasted robusta beans is already enough to do the damage.

                                              1. re: Ptipois

                                                "robusta beans"
                                                Pti: I've always wondered why here (except for the cost) robusta conquers arabica, etc?

                                                1. re: John Talbott

                                                  That's very simple - a historical commercial connection with the former French colonies of West Africa, where robusta is grown in plantations that were started by French colons long ago. Most of the coffee served in French cafés is obtained from those regions, at a low price. It might also be recalled that the superior quality of Italian coffee owes something to the historical connection with Ethiopia, and so on. To make the matter worse, robusta - which is not automatically synonymous with bad coffee - is traditionally overroasted in France, which develops its more assertive, bitter taste.

                                                  A famous coffee vendor once told me another reason why the French café culture remained stuck on robusta: the bean, especially when brewed at high heat in an espresso machine, produces a denser foam than arabica, and more of it. For the French public, lots of thick foam = coffee as it should be (even if it tastes foul). Hence the fixation on robusta. Also robusta contains far more caffeine than arabica and is preferred for morning coffee, for the 'coup de fouet' at the beginning of a working day.

                                                  Pure arabica coffee is now more common in France, but in cafés they generally apply to it the same treatment that they apply to robusta and they manage to make it come out just as bad. In such a way that the name of the brand or vendor becomes irrelevant. The same Richard arabica cup will taste entirely different whether it is served at a decent restaurant or bistrot where minimal attention is paid to coffee-making or at a corner troquet where the coffee machine receives less care than a 1950s Albanian tractor. So in the end robusta is only partly the culprit. Half of the responsibility is, well, the way the French treat coffee in general.

                                                  The secret at the core of all that is that the French do not mind bad coffee. I even believe they delight in bad coffee. They believe that's how it should taste.

                                              2. re: menton1

                                                For Menton,

                                                Your attitude about US coffee is about 15 years late, at least in the "Blue States."

                                                1. re: Busk

                                                  I've had good coffee in the US far more often than I've had good coffee in France (excluding the one I make at home).

                                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                                    Maybe 'good' is in the eye of the beholder and your 'style' of coffee tends after the American vs. the French style. For me, l rarely drink coffee in states, but here cheat and have it a few times a week. Cheat in the sense that caffeine works on me with a vengeance thus avoid it most times.

                                                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                      I suspect DCM is right. As a non-US person my taste may be quite different, I find US coffee to be quite bland (a generalisation I know and I admit have not tried the top specialists).

                                                      I like a strong, robust coffee, here in Sydney our coffee is probably more Italian than in Italy (nearly 100% espresso in all cafes and bars). Possibly more like the French than the US. So maybe that is why it appeals to my taste. it isn't perfect, but equally not as dire as many other countries.

                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                        I've probably told this story too many times but when going to Milan I flew into Lugano and had to kill time at the train station (about a km from the Italian border); I approached the barista and asked did he make his espresso Italian or Swiss style - he looked horrified and insisted - Italian Signore; then I sat down. And had two. After a week in Geneva they were heavenly.

                                                        1. re: John Talbott

                                                          Only think worse than coffee in Geneva is the bread: the worst renditions of Portuguese breads. I used to have to go to France and bring my staff pains chocolate made from a mix, and it was better.

                                                          Sorry, more thread hijack.

                                                      2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                        "Good is in the eye of the beholder" would be a convenient explanation, unfortunately it also tends to invalidate another person's expertise, especially after I've shed a ray of light on the historical roots of 'French-style' coffee. I can tell good coffee when it hits me in the face, for instance in Italy, Southeast Asia, etc. We French do a lot of things right, we don't make coffee right, that's OK with me, we don't have to be the best at everything after all.

                                                        It should be stressed that America has a special relationship with coffee. Very different from the French one, with no Robusta tradition sticking to it. I am not referring to the average cup o'Joe, when North Americans really care for coffee they tend to make it particularly well, and IMO make some of the best coffee on Earth. Also, the true (and most infuriating BTW) coffee freaks tend to be located in the US (especially in the West).

                                                        I have come to believe (and I am French, believe me I have had all sorts of French coffee, including the most dreadful one that few of you people have ever tasted — drip-style office coffee, even worse than troquet cups) that many countries have a style for coffee: Italy, Holland, Sweden, the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cameroon, Morocco (ever had 'café pois-chiche'?), and many more, but there is no such thing as a French style for coffee. Aside from the case when coffee is made right (and then it is made the Italian, Vietnamese, Turkish, etc., way) all I've experienced is mishandling, and you can't label mishandling as 'style'. See above my analysis of the average donkey piss and the little-known cultural trait of robusta preference.

                                                        Which does not mean that some people in France do not handle it right, especially when they care, but the exception is rare enough to remain an exception. Again, the basic idea is that very few people care.