Wake up and smell the coffee

When I first started visiting Paris – though before I moved here – I didn’t even know how to order a cup of coffee. The drink would arrive steaming but with no milk in it, and I’d splutter as I tried to explain what I required. “Vache!” I kept shouting while miming the caressing of udders; vache is French for cow you see. Once the chap in the shop stopped laughing he brought the silly tourist some milk in a little cup.

I don’t order milk any more, it’s too much bother. I guess here they mostly find the idea of drinking the opaque white fluid secreted by the female mammal of a different species mildly disgusting, and why would you want to waste it in a drink when you can turn it into some incredible cheese that smells like the feet of Jesus (Claire had the pleasure of regularly being served by a Brit in a fromagery down on the Rive Gauche who had a real suits you manner about him, and took delight in smelling the cheese and marvelling at how it smelt like the “pied du Christ!”)?


I used to like sugar and milk in my coffee but it’s strange how quickly you can eliminate those foes with a bit of determination. My drug of choice was a latte but that now tastes like a sour milkshake, and you end up looking at the cardboard wondering who stole your hit. I like my coffee black, like my metal. Here are a few things I have observed about coffee, so if you come to Paris you’ll not have to make cow noises to the garçon in order to get what you want.

1. Coffee is not that much nicer here. It’s a bit of a myth actually that coffee is nicer in Paris than London. When I was in Venice last week I didn’t notice much improvement there either, despite the reputation of Italian coffee. Living in the east end bubble that I did in London, most shops were run by wankers called Jonti or Naz who knew their Sumatran kopi luwak from their Columbian freeze dried. Also, if I went to someone’s house and they gave me a cup of instant Nescafé I might not notice the difference. And if I did notice the difference it would likely be negligible. People who turn down instant coffee are knobs, and the only acceptable reason for refusing is if you say: “sorry, Nestlé are a bunch of bastards”.

2. If you want milk it might come in powder form. That happened to me and it fucking sucked. You can ask for café creme or café au lait but don’t be surprised if the waitress attacks your coffee with a tub of dandruff.

3. Café usually means espresso. Why do they keep bringing me small coffee? That’ll hardly touch the sides! I discovered that if you order a café allongé then they fill it up with hot water. Sometimes not that much hot water, but some. And occasionally they’ll bring a glass of cold water over as well for some reason.

4. Drinking coffee outside costs more than inside. Nobody surely knows why, but chances are you’ll be charged different prices depending on where you drink your coffee. At the bar is sometimes cheaper than outside in the sunshine (or the rain presumably). You will pay an extra euro to be outside in order that you can observe the flâneurs flâneuring along the street who will in turn observe you sitting there drinking your coffee. Obviously. Drinking your drink in the bar but not at the bar can also prove more costly, and you start to feel like the proprietor is making it up as he/she goes along. If you want to take it away then ask for ‘emporter‘. That will cost less despite it being outside.

5. I’m probably teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here.

That’s pretty much the sum total of what I know about coffee, other than that I think it tastes yummy. I went for one earlier at one of my favourite places, a little cafe called Aux Folies in Belleville, and it occurred to me how relaxed it was, and the fact there were no tabloids anywhere, just cigarette smoke and chatter. When I flew into Edinburgh the other week the first thing I came across after getting off the plane were all the redtops with pictures of that bloodied lunatic guy with the machete. That was a particularly dreadful occurrence of course, but the sight of papers everywhere reminding you how terrible life can be is oppressive and it keeps you down. In the morning I like my coffee narcotic and I don’t want images of war and blood lust thrust in my face first thing thanks very much. That shit can wait ’til after breakfast.

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