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.