A note on Paris

Its not like I went to every cafe in the city, and I hate sweeping statements more than most, but good lord the coffee in Paris was rough. Its been a while since I’ve tasted really bad stuff and while I sit on this plane to Italy, tapping these words away furiously on my laptop and getting worried looks from my neighbors (the beard has grown), I’m trying to figure out why its bothering me so much…

I was back home in Ireland unexpectedly early last week due to the passing of my Grandad. He was 89, married 63 years and was one of the funniest men I knew, and most likely responsible for my own sense of humor that if nothing else has made me laugh, if often unaccompanied. He wanted us to sing ‘How Great Thou Art’ at his funeral, insisting that we all stand and point at his coffin as he was carried out. We didn’t, even thought the priest thought it was hilarious and thought we should.

It was lovely being home for all the usual reasons. Sadly though, in my absence my parents had gone through the end of all the beans I’d brought home on my last trip and in despair had invested in some pre ground stuff from the local supermarket. I was able to spend the following days surviving on tea refusing to bother brewing the muddy stuff they’d bought which may have been a little snobby of me and I was surprised I was able to go without for 4 days, but seemingly my missing cheap black tea with milk while abroad needed addressing first. It seems they need coffee more than I do.

However, when Jen and I set off for Paris last Friday, I must say I was looking forward to enjoying true French pastries and sipping even only OK coffee on the quiet streets of Montmatre or Marais. The first morning, I woke up and looked up the NY Times website and searched ‘best breakfast Paris’ which didn’t come up with much so I looked up ‘best croissant’ and found an article about a boulangerie called Laduree which was only a few blocks away.

Seemingly this place was famous for carrying two different types of croissants, their original recipe, and one brought in by a new owner who thought it needed a change but was greeted with many disgruntled parisians who wanted the old one. So now, you can either try their croissant l’ancienne, or croissant traditionnel. Having always wanted to taste the perfect croissant we set off.

Initially I was a little put off by the extravagant style of Laduree. I suppose it was fitting for Rue Royale with Dior and Cartier across the road, but I was immediately anxious we were about to be ripped off and that Laduree may be just another tourist trap, a classic example of style over substance. The windows are filled with what looked like bars of soaps, colorful macaroons and lots of small pretty packaging, and looking in we could see a throng of people buying goodies over a counter.

We edged our way inside, and found rather than getting take out, we could have a seat and be served by a waiter. To hurry this along and get to the point, the service was a lot more pleasant than many of our other experiences in Paris, but were the others lacked manners, they made up in their efficiency; Laduree took 15 to 20 minutes to bring us a two cappuccinos, a croissant and a pain au chocolat, another 15 minutes to bring the bill once asked, and then another 15 to collect it and bring back change. But the coffee Stephen, and the food,…

As you can see in the photo, the cappuccinos were pretty rough. It looked liked they’d grated chocolate on top, which I guess if you’re gonna use chocolate is probably a nice way of doing it. Jen had asked in her superior french that the coffees weren’t too hot, something I find hard to warrant the delay in preparation but you never know. Maybe its like when you ask for no pickle in your Big Mac and it takes forever, not that I ever go to Mc Donalds….being the slow food bio dynamic creature that I am…….

So moving on, the froth clearly was very frothy. I hate that word. Well no, I hate froth. That horrible aerated hallmark of badly textured, often burnt milk. The word foam evokes much nicer sensory memories. For me, in the context of milk, foam means OK, froth means nasty.

Oddly the temperature was OK, but I think they may have just added some cold milk at the end. The taste itself was just rank. I really really don’t like dirty machines, especially that dirty machine taste. Well this cappuccino just tasted like licking a dirty portafilter basket with a hint of chocolate (from the actual chocolate – not a nuance of the coffee) and a little bit of flat un-sweet froth. Bitter, ashy and wrong.

The croissants however were incredible. Everything from the texture, to the aroma, to the sound of them tearing to the heavenly taste. Has anyone ever put heavenly down as a descriptor for their coffee? That’d be hilarious. Someone should do it in competition, unless their judges are atheists, in which case they’d be looking for a non existent flavor descriptor which might be tough.

So the bill comes, and its €15.70. First reactions are a little alarmed but then we figure well considering our central location in the city, the luxury surroundings and the famed pastries, I guess it was to be expected. However, on closer inspection, we realise that the two croissants came to only €5.10, and that the two cappuccinos were priced at €5.30 each!

Initially I was prepared to accept the cost of the bill. The croissants exceeded my expectations and were clearly the result of quality ingredients, quality preparation and years of tradition and experimentation. I doubt very much that the same can be said for the cappuccinos.

Oddly, Jen and I went back the next morning to try the french toast, easily the best I’ve ever had and priced at only €6.20. Fascinated, we combed through the menu to find that a coke cost €6.50! Why on earth would they charge more for a coke than their french toast. I mean if the french toast was €15, I probably could understand, and honestly would probably happily pay it, but why on earth would you charge more for a coke!

I don’t like naming and shaming, and have never done it before online, but this left me truly baffled. It is unlikely Laduree are aware of their low quality coffee offering, and I doubt they chose to make it so low, however, why they would price the coffee and a coke above their excellent food offering is beyond me.

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32 thoughts on “A note on Paris

  1. Ryan says:

    I also had some bad coffee and some amazing croissants in Paris last fall. Though I never did make it to Laduree. Regarding prices, we noticed that you could order a hot tea at any corner bar and it would be €4. That’s for hot water and one Lipton tea bag! The funny thing is that on the same bar menu, you would find a glass of basic red wine for €2.70. Only in France would a glass of wine be cheaper than a Lipton tea bag.

  2. loved the story!
    did you try the macarons at la durée?
    for truly great coffee in Paris you must go to the micro-roaster & coffeebar La Soluna where owner Gloria Montenegro Chirouze runs La Caféotheque where they roast single estates all week long!
    Check out some photos at:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/coffeeruas/sets/72157615679818870/

  3. Gary says:

    Sorry to hear about the passing of your grandfather, he sounds like a stellar chap.

    With regards to Paris and France in general, as I have a sister living there I spend quite a lot of my holidays there and the coffee is dreadful. The local bar recently installed a 3 group espresso machine and when I saw it I was filled with hope I may get a decent coffee. How wrong I was the crema was so pale I wondered how many year it had been since it was roasted. Such a shame. So I’ll just have to keep packing my mill grinder and beans when I visit!

  4. Ryan says:

    A yes, La Soluna! That was the one and only good coffee shop I found in Paris. I believe they only do single origin espresso, roasted in-house. I had a Monsooned Malabar… quite unusual choice for a single origin, but delicious with a splash of milk!

  5. carolyncholland says:

    Interesting commentary on Parisian coffee. I’ve explored the Paris cafes, especially the la Procope Cafe, as background for my historic romance novel. It seems “chocolate coffee”as a favorite in the 1790s (my era of exploration). My writeup links are: PARIS CAFE’s & PROCOPE CAFÉ, PARIS: Part 1—Finding photographs: An International Adventure &
    PROCOPE CAFÉ, PARIS Part 2 , for those who wish to explore further. They occur at http://www.carolyncholland.wordpress.com
    Carolyn C. Holland

  6. Condolences on your grandfather, but glad to read you spent time with family and Jen.

    I agree with the others, Solunas Cafe on rue de l’Hotel de Ville is quite good. They roast their own (using a self-contained exhaust system that is quite fascinating, if not a bit smoky) and were the only shop in Paris that I found that actually is trying to deliver great coffee while using a LM GB5.

    But croissants – next time, do make a visit to the 7th and try the baked goods at Stephane Secco. He took over Poujuran’s old shop and bakes baguettes that I dream about. Not to mention the Bellota next door selling Jamon Iberico from Spain and the oh-so-delicious Chez L’Ami Jean just a couple blocks away. And the fantastic almond croissants at a bakery around the corner from my fave hotel…

    I must go back. And soon.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  7. alastair says:

    Another vote for La Soluna here – nice lady, typical Parisian prices, but much better product. It ws surprisingly quiet every time we went in though – how does it survive?

  8. Stephen,
    We met at USBC when Mike Phillips was warming up for finals. Anyhow, I experienced a very similar “issue” in Ireland the past couple weeks with coffee. Save for one shop, most of the coffee was disappointing at best. It all tasted very dirty. Even at Krem (dare I say it), which was my best coffee experience in Ireland, I was shocked and disappointed to see portafilters sitting out of the group heads, slightly long shots, and unimpressive foam/froth on my capps. I ordered a capp in one place and got chocolate powder on top… just not what i expected

  9. Ad says:

    When In Bulgaria I have a sure place for you been there last month Noa Cafe they even got a URL: http://noacafe.homestead.com/index.html

  10. R. Willbur says:

    All the more reason someone needs to open in Paris, selling GREAT espresso for 8 Euro.

  11. bz says:

    aye aye for soluna.

    also, stephen, you clearly just need to open a location. obviously. duh. yep.

  12. [...] note on Paris This article was found on flyingthud. Click here to visit the full article on the original website.Its not like I went to every cafe in the city, and I hate sweeping statements more than most, but [...]

  13. Brian says:

    THis place reminds of the place I recently visited in Jackson, MI (Michigan), the Jackson Coffee Co. The are the real stuff like this place. http://www.jacksoncoffeeco.com It’s like being in Paris.

  14. Brian says:

    OOOPs. I meant to write http://www.jacksoncoffeeco.com. Sorry about that. Check out the pics on the picture page. Paris in Michigan.

  15. Bea says:

    You nut—you go to Laduree of all places to have breakfast, instead of their macaroons.

    That’s like coming into my shop, and ordering I dunno, a diet soda and rice cakes. It’s like going to Gwilym’s cart and asking for a bacon butty and bypass the coffee entirely!

    sigh.

  16. I feel your pain.

    I really do.

    I have recently moved to Abu Dhabi UAE, and given that sitting in coffee shops to avoid the heat could be considered a national sport, I had hoped that the coffee would be pretty good.

    How wrong could I be.

    I have a dirty secret about where I have to get my coffee from while I’m here in the Sandy Climes – but I won’t sully up your fine blog with the rantings of mine.

    Seriously bad coffee here, I can’t say it enough.

    I went to a well frequented cafe yesterday in my quest for a decent cup and ordered a latte – I start with a latte in new cafes, if that works then I’ll move on to more exotic gear.

    The stuff arrived, and was so hot I couldn’t put the cup to my mouth… so I left if for a couple of minutes and tried again.

    I promise that I am not making this up – in the maybe 4 minutes I had left the ‘beverage’ sit, a ‘skin’ had developed over the top of it.

    My interest was piqued so I fished the skin off with my spoon and tasted this ‘thing’ that had been place in front of me.

    I think.. it was made out of coffee creamer – BUT had the taste of a product I’ve tasted while camping in Australia – Coffeemate – a product that I tried on the first morning of a 5 day hike, then screwed the cap back on and went without coffee for the entire trip rather than subject my palate to such discomfort again.

    Great coffee is an art.
    Good coffee in not rocket science.
    How could they get it sooooo wrong.
    :-)

  17. wroxtar says:

    I think I need to book tickets for me and my girlfriend to Paris! Look at the wonderful pics here. I am stunned…would love to be there. Thanks for sharing this. And yea, it’s really strange that a can be dearer than a glass of wine!

  18. Greg Dawson says:

    The coffee sure looks good, but definitely agree it was a bit rougher!

    Blog Post: Poll: What is your favorite coffee type? http://bit.ly/4sfsfl

  19. Coffee Beans says:

    Sorry to hear about your grandfather.

    When it comes to textured milk, you should never have to wonder whether you’re looking at soft whipped cream or just badly frothed milk. Ever!

    Chocolate scraped on top of a cappucino is great though, much better than just the powder you get at most places.

  20. Billy.411 says:

    If in Paris, you just have to go to ‘Les Deux Magots’ it is a famous[1] café in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris. Very old, very cool, and rumored to have served the like of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso…
    A very neat place to visit and soak up the city!

  21. Stephen says:

    It sounds like you were more displeased with the service and presentation of the drink than the actual drink itself…but I must agree, sometimes getting a cappucino or a mocha the barista will over do it with things such as the shaved chocolate or “froth”

  22. Diana C says:

    I was in Paris a long time ago (1967) and deplored the coffee. Why would anyone drink that stuff!? I loved France & the French people outside of Paris. Memories of Paris are basically – bad coffee, rude people! One good memory, lovely croissants and pastries, side-walk cafes. However, they never made up for the horrible coffee.

  23. Paris, France Find great coffee…

    Well, I agree … I a bit of coffee evangelist, who love the taste of coffee is good. My background is that I have had coffee in many countries around the world, and my favorite Italian coffee, espresso machine is manufactured. “Do you ever s…

  24. i love everything in paris. especially their coffee shops.

  25. Lauren says:

    Everything looks scrumptious! I’m going to Paris next winter and I can’t wait! I’ll have to go there for the food, but maybe some place else for the coffee?

  26. Shamus says:

    Great story. In both Paris and Rome I found the ristrettos and expressos most enjoyable, but the cappuccinos were grossly overpriced and mostly overrated. Sitting at a table to drink your coffee can also add considerably to the price, although that’s not an option when your wife is with you.

  27. Daily Cups says:

    I love the Paris coffee shops as well as the ones in Rome but you can find a great coffee shop almost everywhere. The only big difference is definitely the price you pay even when the coffee is not great.

  28. Kopi Luwak says:

    Hi there! First of all, I’m sorry to hear about your grandpa. Sounds like he was a great funny man! Anyway, this blog really caught my attention cause, being the cafe, coffee and croissant enthusiast that I am, it also made me wonder why on earth would they charge a coke more that their french toast and croissant? I mean, don’t they evaluate their fast and slow moving products? they have to have this system so they’d know which products their customers like or dont like.

  29. Doria says:

    I just love Paris, altough the coffee could be better. Less robusta, more arabica would be very nice..

  30. Espressa says:

    I get a grainy, watery taste by simply looking at that photos of ice-cream, or is it meringue pseudo-capps?

  31. I’m curious to know how much Kona coffee they sell or have in Paris. We don’t see alot of orders from the EU in general, so I assume most of their coffee comes from Africa and area.

  32. kaffebilen says:

    Thanks for an interesting blog!

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