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Sep 21, 2010 12:02 PM

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?

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  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 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 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.