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Paris is a city that is well known for many things: romance, the Eiffel Tower and art. What it is not known for is coffee. Most coffee blogs you come across will warn you of this fact, but this can seem like pure snobbery and nothing to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, it is true. Coffee in Paris is treated with the same care and attention that condiments are: cheaper is better. If you’re reading the blog, I hope you will agree that this is a massive oversight and, frankly, a surprise from a European culture that invented the ‘French Press’. Below are seven important lessons I learned from my break in Paris, and I list them here in the hopes that other coffee travellers don’t repeat my mistakes.

7. Coffee names are not the same

That’s right. Beware of ordering a Cafe Latte, unless you want it foaming like a coke float. They take it as a Cafe au Lait, which is more like a cappuccino (1/3, 1/3, 1/3) than a Latte. The closest thing to a Latte is a Cafe Creme, which is coffee with warm cream in it and is very tasty, but also full of fat. An espresso is still the same, so just stick with that when confused.

6. Roasting is not the ‘done’ thing

In the UK, we are becoming more and more used to the idea of in-house roasters being used. Not so in Paris, there are no Square Mile or Origin-like roasters that roast and sell their beans on. This lack of diversification in the market place means that even the roaster I managed to find does not sell its beans to other shops in Paris.

5. The Set-Menu is the ‘done’ thing

This is less coffee-specific but a useful learning curve nonetheless. I was having lunch in a restaurant full of locals, and should have noticed that everyone was ordering the ‘Menu Aujourd’hui’. A simple entree and main that was on a specials board. At a mere 16 euros (in a rather expensive restaurant), I thought that it was worth giving a swerve. But, as it turns out everybody orders the Set-Menu for lunch because it is the best value, and usually the best food. In the whole restaurant, I think I was the only person to order a la carte. The Set-Menu is to be trusted.

4. Shops don’t multi-task

I’m sure this is an exaggeration, but it seems to me that individual restaurants are so small, and usually family owned, that if the place you walk into is a sea food restaurant, you shouldn’t dare stray from that line. In terms of coffee, this means that unless the place is JUST selling coffee that it’s not worth trying it. A Patisserie therefore may do excellent pastries, but there’s no point in ordering coffee. In France this is because of the separation of suppliers: you wouldn’t get your groceries from the Boulangerie.

3. Order small

Do not get tricked into ‘larger is better’. With coffee it rarely is, and the chances are that the milk you get served will radically outweigh the flavour of the espresso. On no occasion did I get the barista increasing the amount of espresso in my coffee, they just increased the amount of milk… And this is never going to end well. Actually… scratch this last piece. If a coffee shop is offering coffee in ‘large’ sizes, then leave. It’s a very good indicator of poor coffee.

2. If you’re walking in off the street, look out for…

Look, the likelihood is, if you’re walking off the street, you are not going to stumble upon fantastic coffee. But there are ways you can minimise the chance of getting horrible coffee. ‘Cafes Richard’ is a sign to avoid. It is sort of like Lavazza or Illy (which are also to be avoided). These are great ways to filter out the bad coffee. A more subtle tell is whether they have a good espresso machine or not. La Marzocco machines are a good way of finding out if a place has really got some passion about their coffee. Ideally, of course, you’re looking for beans that are of a high quality, but if not look out for a barista who is freshly grinding his coffee (the grinder should be going off whilst he’s pulling out the grounds) and who then tamps the coffee correctly, by pressing down hard on the coffee once its in the basket. This latter attention to detail guarantees that the barista cares about the coffee and so should produce a passable cup, even if it’s just a domestic brand of beans that is being used.

1. When researching coffee shops online…

If you’re like me, then you’ll want to have a look at some coffee shops that might be en route on your journey through Paris. After my trip, I have some ‘approved’ bloggers that I found to be highly useful, and I will acknowledge these people over the next couple of reviews. However, in general, you should pay attention to references to ‘branded’ coffee as a nono. Finally, remember the golden rule of coffee in Paris: if you can find it too quickly, it’s no good! Coffee shops are shy beings against the Parisian backdrop, and so it will take time to hunt them down. Bring a good map, and be patient. The good coffee shops are there. But like all good things, they come to those who wait.

My thoughts of Parisian coffee have been quite negative so far. Over the next few days I will be posting a couple of reviews of coffee shops in Paris that stood out for providing the artisan quality that I always look out for. Please look out for these. Finally, I would like to give one last word of warning. Traffic signals in Paris seem to be more or less voluntary. If you are going to Paris, please be warned that the green man does not guarantee that there will not be cars coming at you. It merely increases the chance that cars will brake before they hit you. I was in severe, mortal danger on numerous occasions from this system, and I hope others will learn from my skittishness.

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Eastbourne is known for two things: the air show and retirees. What it is not known for is quality coffee. WIth such close proximity to Brighton, and the sub-culture of Lewes down the road, Eastbourne is strangely drained of delis and food establishments of note. However, I am not one to shy from a challenge. In the heart of the town, just off the main high street is Urban Ground, a new coffee shop that has made the best of an old grocery shop to provide a busy atmosphere, and a bit of a local hotspot.

The attention being paid is partially due to the location, and partially to do with the cakes. The above photo shows a selection of the Urban Ground cakes. The brownie I had was absolutely superb. Made by the owner’s wife, it was the proper amount of sweetness, gooeyness and the occasional crunch. Regular readers will know that I am particularly picky over my brownies and that I hold it as a good spirit level for the quality of the rest of the food counter. The brownie did not disappoint! But the coffee was not as impressive, unfortunately. The coffee was overextracted, and I think the beans were just poorly roasted (though the coffee was from an independent roaster). This was quite unfortunate, but really, I think not enough effort has been put into making coffee a real focus.

The milieu of Urban Ground is pleasant and the lunchtime traffic was high, which is a positive. Eastbourne is showing a real interest in good coffee shops and I think the audience is there. This is the audience that Urban Ground is seeking to attract, but I think it stops short of the mark in educating people about top quality single origin coffee, and the art-like culture that accompanies it.

 

Notes
http://www.urbanground.co.uk/
@UrbandGroundEB

This may seem a bit out of my remit, as vineyards provide us with neither coffee nor cycles. However, I thought this trip would be of interest to readers and might, I hope, also shape the way I see people should see coffee. Wine is traditionally held to be the quintessential tasting beverage. It holds a symphony of flavours, at many levels of the palette. I always agreed with this and don’t see wine tasting to be a stilted or necessarily pretentious activity. What I also believe is that wine-tasting holds a great model for coffee (and beer/ale too), and that a great coffee can be enjoyed like a great wine, and that there is a way of teaching ones taste buds to recognise more flavours within an espresso cup.

Biddenden is a well known name, especially in Kent. The vineyard is famous, particularly for its high quality, authentic cider. Biddenden’s cider is served at a high percentage, and without bubbles–the old fashioned way. Despite this orchard branch (!), the premises are primarily dedicated to vines and producing respected English wines. Superbly, they offer free tours of the vineyard and bottling plant, along with a free tasting following. These tours are at set times, so make sure you view the website for details.

The tour was very interesting, and I think it’s great that they are doing this to increase the awareness of English wine. This has traditionally been a wine surrounded in farce and comedy due to the climate and soil types in Britain that are unfavourable conditions compared to other countries. However, there are some very drinkable wines produced here that are trying to break into the mainstream with new techniques of growing grapes. It is to this end that Biddenden runs some very important tours around their vines, showing the care and attention they show the grape. Like coffee, it also requires a passion and expertise to make it truly great. The pictures show the tour in more detail, but it changes depending on the time of year (this tour was ‘pre-harvest’ and showed the vines being prepared).

The first part of the tour centres around the vineyard, and the second on the bottling process. This second part is where cider lovers will be captivated, by the methods of pulping as well as the great vats that are used to store the cider until it is ready to drink. After this, there are a few bottles on tasting. But don’t think you’ll be getting tipsy on it! The tastings are just a drop, but give you a good idea of the flavour of the ciders and wines on offer. On the wine side, I tried the Ortega wine: this is their bestseller, but I found it a bit too bitter for my taste. I also tried a red, which I found much more palatable. Rich and cinnamony, it almost tasted like a mulled wine. Being a lover of cider too, I couldn’t help but buy a small bottle of their classic vintage. Biddenden’s cider.

The cider is really smooth, and very strong for something that goes down so easily. With no bubbles, it may surprise those who have not tried it before, but I hope you’ll agree it holds a charm and flavour that you miss with an overchilled, overcarbonated cider.

 

Notes
Biddenden Vineyards
@BiddendenVine

I was brought up in Folkestone, and circumstances have led me here again for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, I have never had much respect for the town, and sneered at recent attempts at regeneration. To some extent, I am still cynical, but the attempts have certainly been valiant. The ‘Creative Quarter’ as it has been dubbed has seen loca entrepreneurs stump up the money to reinvigorate an area of Folkestone that was once among the most run down. Fuelled by art and crafts, this Creative Quarter has recently seen many shops spring up taking advantage of the new market for independent, artisan goods that this infusion of culture has created. The Old High Street is now full of small shops, displaying local art, and coffee shops and patisserie. Further into the Harbour, the new restaurant, Rocksalt, is trying to introduce gourmet to the Folkestoneian palette.

Even as a cynic, I do admire the scope and quality of the regeneration that has so far occurred. Moreover, I do appreciate the hard work that these locals have put into the area. But behind every ounce of progress is several ounces of coffee. Having been away for some years, I had discovered Googies Cafe through a friend who had recommended it for its food. The food is indeed of a good quality, and one day I will write something about the boldness that it assumes in bringing an eclectic mix of food to Folkestone. However, as always, I like to concentrate on the coffee at hand.

Having been thoroughly impressed when Folkestone gained its first Starbucks, a development that cultivated my interest in coffee as a teenager, I was fully expecting the situation to be the same now. Where would one go for good coffee? I shouldn’t have been so skeptical. The coffee at Googies is fantastic, and roasted by Alchemy, a small roaster I’m unfamiliar with. They provide drip, espresso and aero press (!) coffees, and have regular quality blends on filter, as well as house blend for espresso. The passion that goes into these coffees was obvious, as I spoke with the barista about various methods of preparation, and how he likes to fiddle with all aspects of the brewing, from temperature to the glass its served in (see pic). The coffee, straight from an aero press, was a beautiful Chiri Ethiopian that increased in flavour as it was left to stand. The thick citrusness of the bean was clear and sharp. The taste wasn’t harsh on the tongue, though was by no means sweet either. It had a balanced, rich taste, but had an overall sharpness which told of quality, rather than distaste.

The ambience of Googies is interesting. It’s somewhere between an aboriginal feel and a belgian bistro, with European beers lining the walls, and a bicycle downstairs. It also holds regular live music events too. For those of you who haven’t been to Folkestone, it’s difficult to convey how indicative Googies is of a development in the town as whole. I hope it lasts. But if not, I hope Googies is there at least until I move away again so I have somewhere nearby to get proper coffee.

 

Notes
Rocksalt Restaurant
Alchemy Coffee
Googies Cafe
@GoogiesArtCafe

I’ve discussed Coffee Culture before, here, in reference to their wonderfully staple and reasonably priced beans. They easily deserve their own post though, and as my last visit to York for some time, I daresay, now would seem a sensible time to write something about the actual coffee shop.

Located on one of York’s most charming streets, Goodramgate, full of little independent pubs and restaurants, Coffee Culture has the kind of raw aboriginal feel that we all love in coffee houses. On entering, you’re greeted by a small bar and a whole paraphernalia of coffee machines and goods. Fortunately there are more seats upstairs, otherwise you’d never get a seat. The ‘driftwood’ style furniture adds to the ambience of the place.

The first coffee I had was a standard latte, I think made with their house blend (which is the same as the beans I raptured about in the previous post). It’s a fantastically smooth taste, with a chesnutty finish and very easy drinking as, indeed, a house blend should be. Very reasonably priced too! Soon after I started, I was handed a sandwich – ham salad. I have previously had their breakfast menu, which was excellent. The ingredients were well sourced, and the bread, in particular was soft and springy. It’s cheaper, larger and tastier than a similar sandwich at Starbucks, so can’t complain!

Looking through their specialties menu, I saw something I thought I should try: a piccolo! These are hardly ‘rare’ in the coffee world, but when I see something non-standard on the menu, I feel a little tingle on my nave that strongly suggests I try it. A piccolo is an espresso shot with milk! ‘A miniature latte’ as the menu called it. Basically, all the flavour of an espresso, without the bite, and with the texture of a latte (but less of the fat!). I chose the Australian Skyberry beans, notorious for the depth of flavour and boldness (not a coffee for the kids). With this, I had one of the brownies here. In past posts, I’ve made it clear that I’m very picky about my brownies, and this one wasn’t quite how I like them, but was decorated with hazelnut, which was delightful, especially when matched with the Skyberry. The piccolo was just beautiful, well made and literally beautiful. The flavour was strong and attacked the tastebuds. It has shares its character with the boldness of the Australian people.

This is my last post from York, and my last coffee shop review for a while as I am out of cities for a while. Hopefully, I’ll get round to posting some more about cycling, but my bike is not in top condish at the moment, so it might just be ramblings about cafetieres and the like.

Notes
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coffeeculture41