Paris Café Culture (and Tips)

February 27, 2017

PARIS — Paris does a lot of things right. Glimmering Haussmann architecture, satisfying wine, oozing cheese like jewels behind glass counters… and perfectly adequate street cleaning. Sadly, coffee (and the matter of public urination, among other things) doesn’t make the list of Paris’s attraits. Between the disinterested waiters and overpriced shots of espresso, it’s no mystery that cafés can serve as a place of anxiety rather than pleasure for the unprepared Anglo-Saxon visitor. Here’s how to turn that frown into a flawless French pout – the closest you’ll get to a smile in the streets of Paris – and perfect your café visit.

 

Find your café.

A few general rules: Paris’s best kept secrets will not be found on sweeping, wide avenues. Paris’s best kept secrets will not be easy to find. Thus, Paris’s best cafés will not be adjacent to metro stops. Like a mantra, repeat this to yourself. Paris is divided by these wide avenues; if you’re lucky (and dorky enough) to be holding a map, move inwards until the streets resemble scribbles rather than definitive, thick lines. If you feel a little lost, you’re doing it right.
Know your value.

Ask a native Parisian for a benchmark. There is no reason, in my opinion, to spend more than fives euros on a café crème and even that’s pushing it. Paris does not by any means have to be expensive. That being said, there are some neighborhoods that draw tourists to overpriced cafés like gays to Gaga with Champs-Elysées and Saint-Germain des Près being two of them. Sometimes, though, you’ll trade a more expensive glass of wine in for a better view. Decide for yourself what kind of premium you place on high-quality of people watching.

50 cl of wine – half bottles, if you will – are perfect for a wine date with a friend and tend to be more economical. Were you really only going to have just one glass? Further, take a glimpse and see if any tables have small ramekins of olives or nuts, because the only thing better than drinking wine with a friend in Paris is drinking wine with a friend in Paris with snacks.

 

Lower your expectations – in a good way.

Expect everything to be smaller. Hug your French press or your drip coffee machine goodbye if you’d like, because you definitely will not be seeing anything like it during your stay.

Expect to sit and enjoy. Coffee is meant to be enjoyed with the company of others and is not to be taken away.

Expect to eliminate all of the banal pleasantries of food service. Your server is not to be tipped anything more than rounding the price up a euro because you don’t have change – no, seriously, they’re paid hourly – and as such they won’t try to be your best friend. Though a little off-putting at first, it’s ultimately an effective way to cut through the small-talk.

 

Finally, know your boissons chaudes.

Are you a single espresso or double espresso kind of tired? If you’re short on time and want to throw one back, keep it simple and stick with an espresso. If you like to sip on something for a longer period of time, order a café allongée (espresso with a bit of water added).

Though putting “café noisette” into your iPhone’s translator will give you something about hazelnut coffee, a noisette is actually a shot of espresso with a tiny bit of steamed milk, and great for those who are still peeved by the idea of drinking coffee black. Another tip? Get over the milk thing – it costs extra, which ultimately means less money for wine!

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