In the first of a series on European coffee-drinking experiences, Cindy Hoang blames France for her love of (OK, addiction to) coffee…
My love affair with coffee began sometime in late October of 2012 in France.
It was nearing the end of a particularly stressful semester on exchange and I was working on an advertising campaign for a uni assignment to get people to buy Fair Trade coffee. My dear lecturer ranted on about the importance of “unearthing consumer insights”, and so for “consumer research purposes”, I assumed the coffee-in-hand, cuffed-up-jeans-wearing-persona of my target audience to better understand the coffee experience. I sat in cafes and ordered different coffees, picking random names off of chalkboard menus. I watched people (in a research-only, non creepy way) as they typed away on their Macs. I had nice chats with baristas.
I ended up doing really well in that assignment, but I also developed the beginnings of a mild coffee addiction.
When I arrived in France for my 12-month exchange I expected the coffee scene to be pretty amazing – all those images of outdoor cafes in the sun and buttery croissants accompanied by a cup of coffee came to mind. But the French seem to prefer their coffees in a no nonsense kind of way – black, no sugar, no takeaway cups. As a lover of lattes I decided to try the café au lait, thinking that they would be similar, only to discover that it was akin to brewed coffee with lukewarm milk. Sometimes you would get the milk in a little silver pitcher to add in as you drink, like you do with tea. Cappuccinos tasted more like lattes with bad foam and coffee art was an undiscovered concept. Let’s just say France was not the place to nurse a mild coffee addiction, especially one that was used to more artisan coffee.
You might wonder how a country with so many pretty sidewalk cafes can have such consistently terrible coffee. The answer lies in the coffee experience – that abstract thing I’d stumbled upon when doing my consumer research. In France, people didn’t go to cafes for the coffee. Instead they were more likely to order a glass of wine and sip that over conversations with friends. Unlike Sydney, cafe culture and coffee culture were not synonymous. Baristas wouldn’t know your order and no one would be taking pictures of their coffee.
But there was one place (that I know of) where you could ask for soy milk without being subjected to a quizzical stare, and when I saw they had a flat white on the menu I almost cried with joy. It’s a tiny little cafe in Lyon called Mokxa, located in the sloping first arrondissement and co-run by a New Zealander (of course), which means they have beautiful coffee and equally beautiful French pastries.
Here, it’s all about the experience.
Inspired by this discovery I began to seek out cafes in every country I visited, in search of a cup of coffee that would take me right back to where it all began…