d How can it be that the nation that makes the perfect baguette, the finest pastries, and some pretty spectacular wine could fail so miserably, so catastrophically, so unbelievably in the making of coffee?
My bar for a good coffee is not set as high as many of my friends, as I am principally a tea drinker, but I have a flat white mid-morning most days, and I like it to be well made, with a decent crema and served at the correct temperature.
I had no expectation that this was going to be a problem in France, so I was completely unprepared for the scaldingly hot, bitter brew with sad little blobs of foam made with UHT milk floating on top that I was served every time I ordered a coffee.
It seems to me that while there is a strong cafe culture in France, there is not the coffee culture that is so much a part of Australian life, at least in metropolitan areas. And I certainly have not seen what is at home the essential accessory for the worker on his or her way to the office – the takeaway coffee. The only time I have seen someone with a coffee cup in hand has been on the Metro, and then it was from Starbucks, and the young woman in question looked very out of place among the other commuters.
I am not one of those travellers who needs everything to be like it is at home – what would be the point of travelling if that was the case. But, coffee is different. And so, out of desperation I consulted Barista Google, searching for “where can I get a decent cup of coffee in Paris”. I was obviously not the first Antipodean to make that plea, because there were rich pickings in the form of articles about the dire quality of French coffee and the inroads being made to provide an quality alternative by a small number of passionate coffee lovers, many who had tasted their first great coffee in Australia and brought their passion and hard won skill for making it back to Paris.
So at 8:20 this morning I was at the door of Coutume, on the Rue de Babylone. The owner took pity on me and let me sit at one of the tables until opening time at 8:30. He and another barista were testing the coffee machine to check all was well, an impressive sign of things to come. The tables were sleek and a pale beech. The floor was polished concrete. Water was brought to my table without asking. The music was hip, as were the baristas. There was a cold drip machine at the back, and a shared table. The coffee was front and centre – and I had a choice of espresso, double shot, cold drip, cappuccino, latte or a flat white. The food choices were simple but interesting, and the only thing that made me sure I was not in Australia was there was no smashed avocado on the menu.
I ordered a flat white and when it came it did not disappoint. I was in coffee heaven. When I went to pay the owner asked if I was Australian and told me he had lived in Brisbane and Melbourne for a number of years before coming home to France and setting up the coffee shop. I told him he was doing a very good thing for his country. He gave me a loyalty card with a bonus stamp because I was from Australia and I don’t think I will have any trouble filling it.