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Oct 17, 2012 05:26 PM

Finding equivalent to NY coffee in Paris

Hello all,
In NY, Zabar's and Fairway both offered coffee beans in roasts called Italian and French. I'm in Paris and curious about whether there is anything at all that is the same and a shop I could go to that would offer it. What exactly would I be asking for, as I assume that "French roast" and "Italian roast" aren't terms that are used in Europe. Do I just ask for strong roasted Arabica beans?

Thank you!!

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  1. You could go to Coutume in the 7th and talk with them about what you're looking for while having a fantastic cup. They're very knowledgeable, roast their own single-origin beans, and the owner is an Aussie, so they're very English friendly. Even if they don't have exactly what you're looking for, you could get yourself a very good bag of freshly ground beans, or just a good cup, and find out what you should ask for depending on what coffee flavors you enjoy. They offer a nice brunch on Sundays, too. 47 Rue de Babylon

    1. Just go to a brûlerie (coffee roasting shop) and ask for arabica. Or ask for a recommendation, that is, if you are adventurous and are not married to New York Zabar's and Fairway French/Italian beans.
      Where are you staying? There are good brûleries all over Paris. There must be one near you.

      37 Replies
      1. re: Parigi

        Thank you both!
        We're staying in the 18th until December 1st. On Lamarck near Caulaincourt. We'll be looking for our permanent apartment between now and then.
        I'm not married to either NY coffee or NY, otherwise I wouldn't have been ok with moving to Paris. ;) Going to check out Coutume today, hopefully.

        1. re: tinpanalley

          "Lamarck near Caulaincourt"

          Lovely area. Esp the intersection.
          Near you is Authentic Bretel, on the very hip Rue des Abbesses, on n° 46.
          Even nearer perhaps is the Brûlerie de Montmartre, 66 Rue Damrémont.

          1. re: Parigi

            Also there's a brulerie at #1 Rue du Poteau just before the Monceau Fleurs shop. Fine Coffee; not Zabar's, but then what is?

          2. re: tinpanalley

            I'm not sure why someone living in the 18th needs to make a pilgrimage to a café in the 7th just to check out the coffee. La Brûlerie de Montmartre on the rue Damrémont between the rues Lamarck and Marcadet is perfectly fine. And while you are on the rue Damrémont you can get some fabulous cheese at Chez Virginie, a few macarons or choc stuff at Arnaud Lahrer, and some very superior bread and pastries at Arnaud Delmontel.

            1. re: Parnassien

              Well, I don't know that it's a "pilgrimage" to go to the 7th from the 18th but I can give you one very good reason, to get to know another neighbourhood.

              1. re: tinpanalley

                On the way to or from the Café Coutume, you can also make a getting-to-know detour to Belleville for the the brûlerie just across from Jourdain métro station. Exploration is a good thing.

              2. re: Parnassien

                Juliemarie suggested Coutume in the 7th before tinpanalley revealed he/she was living in Lamark/Caulaincourt. Juliemarie does not have telepathic skills to guess that. I don't have telepathic skills either. Maybe tinpanalley IS a pilgrim.

                1. re: Parigi

                  Who knows, maybe I AM a pilgrim. I just want some good coffee. :)

                  Thank you all for your suggestions. I think it's going to be Coutume. If nothing else it will give me something to write about on my blog. I've read about Coutume in other places and my only fear is that it might be one of those places that is overly pretentious about something simple like coffee and tea. Not overly commercial like Starbucks, but rather unnecessarily expensive just because someone with the right haircut and outfit behind the counter is serving it. There is a place like that in New York that has 2 or 3 locations and their coffee is awful but everyone thinks it's great because they use the right combination of words like organic, trendy outfits on their servers, and repurposed wood and antiques in their cafes.
                  Yes, I'm generalising, but I've seen first hand that there a lot of places that sell an experience while offering horrible coffee and get away with it because they use the right words and have machines that make all the right noises behind the counter.

                  1. re: tinpanalley

                    Try Kooka Boora. It does not sell any experience since the interior looks like crap. The coffee is very good, considerd Italian standard by my Italian neighbor.
                    And you can walk from your place (lovely walk too) there going up Place Constantin Pecqueur through the beautiful and secret rue d'Orchampt to Bâteau Lavoir then Abbesses, then down rue des Martyrs.

                    1. re: tinpanalley

                      Ugh, coffee again.

                      If you want US-style nerdy coffee, Coutume is the place, but I was very disappointed when I sampled it, having been served an okay capuccino and an acrid, undrinkable cremato. I have come to the firm belief that these trendy, US-influenced Paris coffee places are, frequently, bigger on style than substance. As you say, an experience. Now Coutume might well, I'm afraid, fit the description you're giving above of "one of those places that is overly pretentious".

                      Of course, promoting these NYT-cherished international-style coffee joints involves giving a bad name to Parisian coffee - without any nuance or discussion. Now it is true that Paris coffee is often terrible (and there are historical reasons for that) but there are exceptions, and you never know where you may meet them since the corner café where you'll be served a good petit noir looks just like another one.

                      Briefly the French, for a long time, have had a bad habit of overroasting coffee, using badly maintained coffee machines and being addicted to cheap robusta, but that is by no means a fatality.

                      If you want good Paris-style coffee, I recommend :

                      Brûlerie San José, rue des Petits-Champs
                      Terres de Café, rue des Blancs-Manteaux
                      L'Arbre à Café (a small brand available in some restaurants).
                      Malongo, rue Saint-André des Arts

                      If you want to buy beans, try Verlet (do NOT by any means drink a cup there), Terres de Café, Brûlerie des Ternes, Brûlerie San José, really just about anything that has "brûlerie" in the name, and the coffee section at Le Bon Marché is just great.

                      For recommending these addresses, I have been copiously fustigated by some US expats in Paris who "know what coffee is about" but I am holding my ground. I love good coffee, but there are few things I hate more than coffee snobbery.

                      1. re: Ptipois

                        And even though its from Trieste, the Illy Espressamente Café on Rue Auber may qualify as New York level stuff.
                        And as Bobo as it may sound, while waiting for my pals posting above at the last Paris des Chefs at la Maison de la Mutualité, I tested the coffee from several Nespresso capsules and I liked them.

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            Uh, no it's not. It will do "in a pinch," I suppose, and it's certainly better than instant, but ....

                            Well, this is proof we are have our personal taste preferences...

                            1. re: zin1953

                              It is good enough for Jacques Genin and some of the best Paris restaurants, at any rate.

                              1. re: Ptipois

                                Very good. It has about two dozen blends. My faves are veluto and decaffeinato intenso.

                                1. re: Ptipois

                                  It might be wonderful, but I guarantee you that if it's served in good restaurants, it has more to do with a marketing decision and business partnership than an executive decision to serve that coffee.

                                  1. re: tinpanalley

                                    there's no shortage of factors that in fact make it very plausible for the choice to be a managerial and accounting decision. how much a bidness chooses to invest in its coffee service (materials, equipment, space, water treatment, staff training) is in the realm of executive decisions.

                                    1. re: tinpanalley

                                      We find Nespresso machines and an assortment of capsules in many of the rooms where we stay (maisons d'hote) and have found the product quite good. From a business model perspective, the simplicity and degree to which they are idiot-proof would come into play as much as cost, I would think.

                                      What has bugged us has been the increasing use of instant decaf coffee after dinner. When we ask if they have decaf, we mean brewed. We have been astounded at several small places with outstanding kitchens to have been served what is obviously instant. What are they thinking? No is a perfectly good answer. I'd rather have hot water or nothing than instant decaf.

                                      1. re: mangeur

                                        Jeez, guys, I sort of threw out my Nespresso onetime experience as a light-hearted comment, boy do we have strong opinions here. It's just coffee not genocide.

                                        1. re: John Talbott

                                          No kidding. When I suggested Coutume, I didn't know the OP lived here, nor was I suggesting it was the best coffee one could find on the earth, nor that they were humble, unhip, or the perfect balance of non-snobbery meets passionate unassuming knowledge of crafting the perfect cup.

                                          I just meant that they know coffee and they speak English, so they could probably tell someone how to find what they're looking for. It's a 3 minute bike ride for me, so no pilgrim gear required, although that 15 minute trek on the metro sounded horrendous.

                                      2. re: tinpanalley

                                        But that does not mean that good restaurants will necessarily have bad coffee, and that we should only target places with bad food to find good coffee.
                                        In France if a restaurant serves good food, it will keep high standard about sourcing. The bread and the coffee are as soignés as the food. Nothing careless about their selection.

                                        1. re: tinpanalley

                                          When it comes to someone as fussy about the essential quality of everything as Jacques Genin is, I am not so sure of that.

                                          Maybe it is only a matter of playing safe and making sure customers will get an excellent product, sheltered from fluctuations and various accidents - and also, may I add, from what we French call "prise de tête". Most Nespressos I've had in Paris restaurants were better than what I had at Coutume that day. Many inconspicuous coffees I've had in various places were far better than some coffees that were served to me with the imprimatur of the purest coffee geekery.

                                          Could it have been an accident at Coutume? Probably. Well, that is precisely what I mean.

                                          1. re: Ptipois

                                            I'm a fan of Nespresso. In fact, we're buying a machine for our Paris flat.

                                        2. re: Ptipois

                                          All that means -- sorry -- is that a) they don't care as much about their coffee as they do about their food; and b) they got the machines for free in exchange for marketing and a service contract.

                                          Then again, given what the average espresso is in the average Parisian café, I can well understand how some might think Nespresso est absolument superbe et incarnation de café fin, mais . . . c'est la vie.

                                          As I've often said, this is why there is more than one restaurant, more than one winery, more than one brûlerie -- we each have our own tastes.

                                  2. re: Ptipois

                                    "US expats in Paris who "know what coffee is about" ...but there are few things I hate more than coffee snobbery.'"
                                    Absolutely impeccably well put. If a cup doesn't cost more than 5 euros and have some ethnic sounding name, you simply don't know what good coffee is apparently.

                                    The best coffee I've ever had in the states that was actually in an American establishment was a good cup of breakfast Joe at a diner over some hearty breakfast. THAT is American coffee. Not "Serenta La Minestra blend roasted in bat turds over cedar logs"

                                    1. re: Ptipois

                                      merci, Ptipois for these suggestions. we have to find some decently roasted beans tomorrow, having depleted what we brought from my last batch roasted on our home stove. it probably makes me one of the destested kopi-geek/snobs, but the surest means of getting the cuppajoe that satisfies you is to determine what combination of body,acidity,flavor profile suits you and learn to choose the beans and roast yourself. otherwise, it's a matter of adapting to what your local roasters provide (and sometimes becoming an addict or 'fan' of that roaster), or just going along with what's convenient (the success formula of star-- and other chains).

                                  3. re: Parigi

                                    Cixi, I wasn't responding to Juliemarie's suggestion (which is a good one if you are within pedalling distance) but to tinpanalley's announcement of a trek for what seemed to be just a half kilo of of coffee. Now that I know the bag of beans is just a excuse for exploring, it's all good, no ?

                                    1. re: Parnassien

                                      Ok, ok... I think we can all just let it go, no?
                                      But Parnissien, I have to tell you... Going 1hr and 20 minutes from one part of Upper Manhattan to South Brooklyn to an Italian specialty shop just to get prosciutto is a trek. Getting on the M12 for 15-20 minutes to go to the 7th? That's not a trek. And maybe it's just because I'm new here but anyone who can't enjoy or get excited a little bit about the fact that they can go from Montmartre to St Germain whenever they want needs some time away or is living in the wrong town. Just my opinion of course.

                                      1. re: tinpanalley

                                        I'm a native and, almost by definition, a flâneur (someone who indulges in lazy explorations with no fixed purpose other than unsuspected discoveries). Every quartier is so full of possibilities and quality that it seems almost absurd to flit from one end of Paris to another with a singular or determined purpose. I know we French are a lazy lot but I would have thought that finding places just around the corner on the rue Damrémont in your own neighbourhood might make a good start in your coffee quest... and then checking out cafés on the rue de Babylone when you happen to be exploring the 7th.

                                        1. re: Parnassien

                                          The real point is that Coutume is not worth crossing several arrondissements for.

                                          On the other hand, Le Bal Café is distinctly closer to rue Damrémont, and they do have some good coffee...

                                          "I know we French are a lazy lot"
                                          Where did you get that idea?

                                          1. re: Parnassien

                                            You forget that Americans are purpose driven. That's why flâneur doesn't have a simple English translation. ;)

                                            1. re: mangeur

                                              You also all have to realise that because someone is coming from New York doesn't mean they're American. ;) I'm actually Canadian. And it was rare when I could find a good cup of coffee in the US, including NY. Having cleared that up, sadly, Americans do tend to be purpose driven but I would describe myself as a flaneur through life but when I want good coffee, I don't really care where it is, I'll go. I took the advice today and went to Coutume. Bought 250g. Was it the kind of experience-first place I was expecting? Yes. But the pastries were good and I enjoyed my coffee. Not enough to go back JUST for the coffee and not anywhere near the best cup I've ever had. But I got a nice chat with the girl making the drinks about coffee, what they do, why they think their coffee is special and that made it worth it to me.

                                              We all know what we each like. That's the lesson here. I've been drinking coffee since I was in high school. I know what I like, I know what tastes good to ME, I know what pretentious snob places like to say good coffee tastes like and I know that it's usually not good enough for me. I don't think it has anything to do with where you go or how much you pay. I think it has everything in the world to do with what your mouth and your taste buds tell you.

                                              So, for me, so far... Coutume 3/5 but I'd only go if i was in the neighbourhood.

                                              1. re: tinpanalley

                                                "I know what I like, I know what tastes good to ME....I don't think it has anything to do with where you go or how much you pay. I think it has everything in the world to do with what your mouth and your taste buds tell you."

                                                Words to live by. And the reason recommendations are such a crap-shoot.

                                                1. re: mangeur

                                                  I've been French pressing 2 for 3 euro bricks of 100% arabica from Dia, and liking it. <facepalm>

                                                  1. re: Busk

                                                    Wow! I don't know Dia. Under the caption of "heightened awareness", I will probably realize that I have fallen over them for years and just not noticed them. How does their price/quality compare to, say, Monoprix or Carrefour?

                                                    I love new doors.

                                                    1. re: mangeur

                                                      Probably the same coffee as Monoprix.

                                                    2. re: Busk

                                                      I'm not surprised one bit.
                                                      Dia is a chain of hard-discount supermarkets. Formerly, excellent coffee or other stuff could be found at ED, etc. Coffee does not have to be pretentious. And as I wrote, you never really know where you'll find the good stuff.

                                2. So long story short, there isn't any way for me to find out what the "French" and "Italian" roast is that I used to buy in the US? I assumed it would be a specific type of Arabica that was sold in fine shops in any country.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: tinpanalley

                                    In the same way that the only part of Paris where you cannot see the Tour Montparnasse is the top of the tower itself, I do not think France is the right place to find out what French roast is. It is only the kind of thing you hear about when not in France. I have no idea what that is. Brûleries have their house roasts that are different in every place.

                                    1. re: tinpanalley

                                      It seems the easiest and most accurate way to find out is for you to ask your supplier back home instead of having us guess what you mean, no?

                                        1. re: Parigi

                                          "It seems the easiest and most accurate way to find out is for you to ask your supplier back home instead of having us guess what you mean, no?"
                                          I hope we're not seen as unhelpful. We're just stuck answering.
                                          I've got a another idea following on Parigi's notion; how about bringing over/having sent over some beans and take them to your local brulerie and ask him/her to try it and tell you what approximates it here.

                                            1. re: tinpanalley

                                              " Zabar's and Fairway"
                                              "re: John Talbott Thats a great idea. Thanks. :)"
                                              Full disclosure: Between 1968 and 1970 ( post Viet Nam), I lived on W. 83rd St and from then til 1985 on W 93rd St; so Zabar's Coffee was my stock-in-trade and Fairway my wonderful wife Colette's haunt (and my rendez-vous with Cheeseman Jenkins, the quintessential imp).
                                              But here coffee is different; me, I'm easy, Illy, Monoprix, Lavazza, it's caffeine.
                                              And as I've said, if you have the dorememe, go the George Clooney way, Nespresso capsules are amazing.
                                              Now, in 10 days, I'll be in Milan and you can bet I'll not do badly any time of day.

                                        2. re: tinpanalley

                                          In the UK French and Italan roasts are still common terms in pre-packed supermarket coffee. The Italian roast was designed for an espresso machine, the French roast for filter coffee. Now we have more choice the upmarket shops tend not to use the these terms, and the reality is the origin of the beans will drive the flavour as much as the style and standard of the roast (i now get confussed by the simplicity of a supermarket choice). Given the difference in coffee markets from country to country driven by local tastes and experience, I think the only way you will get close is to taste and taste until you get something you like. Of course you could get it sent over - but isn't local and freshly roasted going to be fresher and better.

                                        3. The original comment has been removed
                                          1. I got something called Melange Italien at the Brulerie de Montmartre. It is the closest thing to perfect so far.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: tinpanalley

                                              Since I lived in Seattle for 30+ years, I feel some obligation to step in here with my own biases.

                                              First of all, having grown up in NYC when I was young and innocent, I also thought Zabars set the standard. Now I wouldn't put "Zabars" in the same sentence with the phrase "excellent coffee." (Further explanation would force me to the NY board.)

                                              Here's are two objective tests of a good brulerie that most I've visited in Paris fail: 1. Ask when the beans you're interested in were roasted. Watch their faces to see if it looks like they're just making up something to satisfy your question, or if there is some actual marking to show it.

                                              2. Are the roasted beans sitting out oxidizing in open bins, or are they closed up, but not too sealed to allow offgassing when freshly roasted? At Zabars (oops) and most French shops, they are sitting out.

                                              I do drink coffee in Paris cafes. Like if I still went to ballgames, I'd probably eat the lousy hot dogs. It's a matter of context and location. I even occasionally drink a café allongé, which my local roaster in the US calls "coffee murder" because it is so acidic. If I want a good cup of coffee, I'll go to Illy or some other Italian shop.

                                              When at home in Paris, as now for a month, I bring great coffee from the town where I live in the mountains of Washington state. The coffee is from Blue Star Roasters, which just won a national competition for "best espresso in the US." (Actually, I usually get a darker roast from them.) I use an Aeropress here, which makes a much better cup than any French Press.

                                              I have also had Nespresso. I find it better than the coffee served in many Parisian cafés.

                                              1. re: RandyB

                                                Randy, very good point about context and location. When Sitting in a Parisian bar or cafe drinking less than perfect coffee and eating the less than perfect coffee is still wonderful as the food is really less than 1% of the total experience.