Coutume is something of an old hand in the (relatively new) Parisian third-wave coffee scene. On the left bank, on the relatively untrodden (by tourists, at least) rue de Babylone, it is both a roaster (which supplies the likes of Black Market) and a café in its own right. Of the three third-wave cafés I visited on my trip to Paris in May, character-wise it sits between Ten Belles, which felt as if it had been lifted straight out of Soho, and Black Market, which felt like a little French café/bar.
On the one hand, Coutume felt undeniably French, particular since it was the only one of the three to offer table service. It also seemed to have the most local custom. On the other hand, if I closed my ears and took down the menus, it too could have been lifted straight out of Soho, with its tiled counters and bare, undecorated walls.
Not that this is any criticism; of the three, I preferred the coffee at Coutume, although it was a close-run thing with Black Market. I also loved the atmosphere, it being a great place to drink great coffee.
August 2014: you can see what I made of Coutume on my return visit in 2014.
Café de Flore is a grand café in the old style, which, together with near neighbour Les Deux Magots, is a fixture of Paris’ Left Bank. Situated on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, Café de Flore dates back to 1885 and provides a taste of café life from early to mid-20th Century Paris. Popular with tourists and locals alike, it is, for me, part of something quintessentially Parisian, the stereo-typical grand café par excellence. Fortunately for me, Café de Flore actually lives up to my (potentially exaggerated) expectations.
The coffee is good and there’s a range of food from breakfast through lunch to dinner, along with a range of pastries. If coffee’s not your thing, there’s tea, hot chocolate, soft drinks and a very impressive array of drinks from the bar, including a whole page on the menu dedicated to champagne (this is, after all, France). The only potential downside is the price: for a city with a reputation for being on the expensive side, expect to pay twice as much in Café de Flore as you would elsewhere in Paris. Of course, you’re paying for the experience and that little touch of class, which, for me, is well worth it!
Black Market is probably my favourite of the third-wave coffee places that I visited in my recent (and far too short) trip to Paris. It effortless marries third-wave coffee with the look and feel of a traditional French bar/café in the streets of the 18th Arrondissement. After my recent rant about attitudes to Parisian coffee, it’s good to see somewhere combining new and old so well.
The coffee, from Parisian roasters Coutume, is made with as much love and care as any I’ve seen and the menu is commendably short, with just espresso, café long (espresso with hot water; think Americano/long black), noisette (espresso with a small amount of milk; think cortado/machiatto) and café au lait (espresso with more milk; think small cappuccino/flat white).
The interior is similarly uncomplicated, with wooden furniture blended with plain walls and a tiled floor. I really enjoyed it, although some might find the music annoying. Although mellow, it was quite loud when I was there. On the other hand, apart from the barista, I had the place to myself for a large part of my stay, so it added something to the atmosphere and didn’t feel that intrusive.
February 2014: Sadly Black Market has closed, which is a real shame. However, the owners, Youssef & Baptiste, have now opened Fragments, Paris, their new venture in the La Marais.
I worry when I hear people say that they can’t find good coffee in Paris, since I’ve never had a problem in that respect. After all, Paris has a café (and coffee) culture that in many ways long predates that of the UK or the US. What I suspect I’m hearing is “I can’t find coffee that I like” or “I can’t find the coffee that I’m used to”. The simple fact is “coffee I like/am used to” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “good coffee”.
So, I’m going to use this Saturday Supplement to try something new for the Coffee Spot, a discussion piece, looking at the coffee scene in Paris as a matter of taste and perspective. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that while you can get good coffee in Paris, you can also get bad coffee, often shockingly bad coffee. However, Paris has a wide and varied coffee scene, from the little bars with an espresso machine, through the bistros and pavement cafés all the way to the grand cafés of the Left Bank and the upmarket Salons de Thé. And, recently added to the mix, third-wave coffee.
Ten Belles, just off the Canal St Martin, in a lovely part of the city, is a fairly recent addition to the Paris coffee scene, having opened in September 2012. However, serving Has Bean coffee in distinctly British/North American surroundings, it is most definitely not a traditional Parisian café. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just don’t come here expecting table service, stuffy waiters and café crème: Ten Belles wouldn’t be out of place in the heart of London or New York.
A small place, with a clever mezzanine section above the kitchen to provide additional space, Ten Belles is proving a hit with the ex-pat crowd judging by the amount of English spoken and the accents on display during my visit.
Ten Belles has a commendably limited (and typical for Paris) espresso range: espresso, melangé (with hot water; close to a long black/Americano), noisette (with steamed milk; close to a macchiato or cortardo) and cappuccino. All come as double shots, the size determined by the drink. There’s also Aeropress and Chemex options, filter coffee, tea, hot chocolate (all in really nice Ten Belles mugs) and Luscombe soft drinks to reinforce the British link.