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No, that is not a misprint. You, like me, have likely endured numerous tiny cups of mediocre, badly brewed, bitter Arabica coffee in Parisian cafés. Perhaps you’ve also wondered why, in this culture so often defining exquisite taste and culinary sophistication, coffee seems to have utterly missed the high-bar set by French expectations.
Hear, hear. The good news is that in recent months top-quality coffee in Paris has burst onto the foodie scene, transforming the depth and breadth of the coffee experience for folks who seek out really good, even great, coffee.
Interestingly the current new-wave of fine coffee shops has been largely stimulated by non-French coffee aficionados. Here are two delightfully different sources for caffeinating in convivial surroundings in central Paris.
La Caféotheque, founded in 2005, is one of the original high quality coffee café/shops. Located on rue de l’Hotel de Ville in the Marais and just off the Seine, the address is easy to access and enjoy. Originally from Guatemala, the coffee loving founder of La Caféotheque, Madame Gloria Montenegro, served as Guatemala’s Ambassador to France. Post-ambassadorship, she happily embarked on her impassioned mission to bring delectable properly brewed Guatemalan coffee to Paris. Today La Caféotheque imports top quality beans from small-scale growers in various South American and African nations. They aim to highlight a different brew each day of the month.
With focus, determination, and seemingly innate charm, this entrepreneurial woman started the trend to elevate the bar for the Parisian coffee experience. On a parallel track, she also educates fussy Parisians and would-be coffee-professionals about the wide world of flavor to be savored with correctly brewed high quality beans.
La Caféotheque is a low-key, welcoming venue for a variety of coffee preparations, sipped with or without sweet or savory accompaniments. I indulged in their café gourmand one chilly April afternoon and loved the rich deeply flavored cappuccino and the decadent chocolate pavé with passion fruit coulis that accompanied it. The coffee was utterly delicious.
A counter in the front of the café, overseen by Christina, Madame Montenegro’s hospitable daughter, sells numerous varieties of freshly roasted beans. The baristas are carefully trained to craft the perfect cup, paying attention to the proper milk to coffee ratios in cappuccinos to assure production of a rich balanced drink. Indeed great care is taken with all the facets of brewing coffee for espressos, café Americanos, noisettes, or other choices.
Training in-house is a particular focus to assure consistently good coffee and attentive service. In addition Madame Montenegro shares her expertise through her rigorous training program for baristas and other coffee professionals. She has trained over 300 men and women from a variety of countries and cultures in the past three years to make high-quality coffees, respecting the bean, the brew and the torrefaction.
Settle in one of the three cozy rooms at La Caféotheque and sample a brewed coffee, an espresso, or one of those artful cappuccinos. The atmosphere is relaxed, conducive to conversation or contemplation. And, as a bonus, La Caféotheque’s location just off the Seine and near the Pont Louis Philippe make it perfect for a break when exploring the Marais or the Ile St. Louis. You might even consider getting a take-away to savor outside on the bridge or the quais of the Seine.
La Cafeothéque is a classic. Great coffee in a sweetly relaxed, slightly bohemian coffee house atmosphere with a lovely owner who makes all comers feel welcome and at ease. A whole new level of diplomacy!
For a completely different feeling experience with fabulous coffee to boot, head to uber-hip Cotumelab on rue de Bouloi near the Palais Royal. Cotume was founded by two partners, one French, one Australian. Antoine Netien and Tom Clarke’s first Cotume café is located in St. Germain des Prés. That has become a go-to spot for freshly roasted coffees, light meals using organic ingredients, even a selection of artisanal beers. Their third and newest café is the sleek Cotume Instituutti in the Finnish Cultural Center located in the Latin Quarter and very near the Cluny Museum and Luxembourg Gardens.
Cotumelab is intimate, hip and ultra-modern in its design. Serious coffee for serious folks. The charming barista is welcoming and happy to talk about the techniques behind making these exceptional coffees. He clearly loves coffee and enjoys his work crafting remarkable coffee drinks. He is painstaking in his coffee preparation and can discourse as readily about the proper milk and steam ratio for cappuccino as he can about the correct processes for brewing hot and cold coffee.
Possibilities include ‘Flat Whites’, a nod to that talented barista’s sojourn in New Zealand, as well as a deep, winey espresso, an intense cappuccino with a perfect milk/coffee ratio, fabulous cold-steeped iced coffee as well as some additional highly innovative rifts on coffee. All those adjectives that describe coffee come to life here— rich, full bodied, winey, spicy, aromatic. Great care is taken to choose the perfect bean, method and water temperature for a sublime brew. The espresso was outstanding and the cappuccino even more so. Fabulous.
Why the ‘lab’ in the name? The founders of Cotumelab are collaborating with David Edwards, a Harvard professor exploring the intersections of food and science that push coffee’s boundaries. For example, note the willy-wonka-ish machine that extracts the essence of coffee via a steam of scent that is then extracted into a glass. For 3.5 Euros this is quite the experience. You inhale the coffee rather than drink it. Cotumelab also serves a ‘scoop’ of mango-coconut ice cream that is enclosed in a microscopically thin edible wrapper that allows the confection to retain its frozen consistency well after it is removed from refrigeration. The aim of this concept is to bring extended shelf- life foods to poor nations that don’t have the luxury of 24/7 refrigeration readily accessible.
Cotumelab is as sleekly hip as La Caféotheque is bohemian. Both are excellent venues for exploring the nouveau Parisian fine coffee scene. And for having a superb cup of your coffee of choice.
La Caféotheque. Open every day 9:30 to 19:30. 50-52 rue de l’Hotel de Ville, Paris 4. Metro: St. Paul
Cotumelab. 4 rue de Bouloi. Paris 1. Mondays through Saturdays, 9:30 to 17:00. Metro: Palais Royal or Bourse. Note: Cotumelab is next to the ‘labstore’.
Sally Peabody is a travel specialist focused on Paris, the Pays Basque, Andalucia, Catalunya and Turkey. She writes about her favorite places, advises independent travelers and leads intimately scaled cultural and culinary tours. Her websites are www.yourgreatdaysinparis.com and www.turkishjourneys.com
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