I always thought that if I lived in Paris, I would have a favorite café just around the corner, where Parisians have noisy two-hour lunches with wine, while the friendly, yet efficient waiters know me by sight and start making me an espresso as I walk in the door. And then I moved here and learned a sad, little secret: Parisians are good at cafés and bad at the actual coffee.
Most French cafés use Robusta coffee, which is cheaper, can be stored for longer, and is generally considered to be of lower quality than Arabica coffee. About half of the coffee beans imported by the French are Robusta beans, according to the International Trade Forum. US coffee imports on the other hand, are composed of 76% Arabica and 24% Robusta. Canadian and German imports are similar to the US, and the Nordic countries barely import Robusta at all.
So how do you get good coffee in Paris? Italian brands illy and Lavazza use only Arabica, so look for their logos. Le Malar, for example, on the corner of rue St. Dominique and rue Malar, uses Lavazza. Look for brûleries, the French word for coffee roaster. And then there is Starbucks, which is becoming almost as common as the traditional Parisian café. Just make sure you get your Starbucks coffee in an actual cup, as paper cups cool the coffee too quickly, seriously damaging the taste. Starbucks gives you exactly what you expect from a chain: consistently decent coffee, but never a fantastic experience. So where do you go for fantastic?
On rue St. Dominique, there is a specialty coffee store called Comptoirs Richard, with a bar in the back of the shop where you can get excellent espresso. It’s a five minute walk from the Bosquet building, so this is a good choice for a quick dose of caffeine between classes.
If you want to sit down, read newspapers and use WiFi, try espressamente illy, near Opera. With shiny metal decor and a display of brightly colored espresso machines, the atmosphere is far from traditional or French – in fact, it might seem a little cold. You can still enjoy a pretty good espresso.
In the same area, you’ll find Verlet, with a long line of people waiting to get coffee for their homes, and gesticulating Parisians at every table. I loved their coffee cups, and I wouldn’t mind occupying a table here for a few hours with friends. However, while their espresso was good, it would have been much better if it wasn’t stored pre-ground in an open container. Once coffee has been ground, the taste is getting worse by the second. As a general rule, if you don’t see a coffee grinder behind the counter, get tea.
My favorite is Cafeotheque Soluna by Hôtel de Ville. The espresso, which changes daily, is delicious, the friendly baristas clearly know what they’re doing, and the comfortable atmosphere makes me want to bring a stack of books and newspapers and stay for hours. And as Parisian clichés go, a favorite café overlooking the Seine is just as good as one around the corner.
List of recommended coffee shops:
145, rue St. Dominique
Nearest metro stop: Ecole Militaire
Espresso at the counter: 2.60
(There is another Comptoirs Richard at this address: 48, rue du Cherche-Midi)
13, rue Auber
Nearest metro stop: Opera
Espresso at the counter: 2
256, rue Saint-Honoré
Nearest metro stop: Pyramides or Madeleine
Espresso at the counter: 2.70
52, rue de l’Hôtel de Ville
Nearest metro stop: Pont Marie
Espresso at the counter: 2 for coffee of the day, 2.50 for other espresso coffees
11, rue Rambuteau
Nearest metro stop: Rambuteau (not far from Hôtel de Ville)
Espresso at the counter: 1 (cheapest espresso shot tested)
I have not had time to visit these, but they’re worth mentioning:
Malongo, a French coffee chain
Nespresso on Champs Elyssée
Hediard, 126, rue dur Bac, by Musée D’Orsay
Two brûleries, not cafés:
Brûleries de Ternes 10, rue Poncelet, by the Arc de Triomphe
Lapeyronie, 3, rue Brantôme, by Centre Georges Pompidou
Originally published in The Planet