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Café Or Coffee…French Or American?

With the arrival of Starbucks in Paris (I swore to myself I wouldn’t write about them so as not to give them any more publicity than they deserve), everyone is talking about coffee.

Last weekend, Theo Robinson, photographer/artist who is the official staff recorder of the upcoming Living and Investing in France Conference in San Francisco, took me to a new little café on the quai de Valmy along the Canal St. Martin called “Chez Sésame” (number 51) because the coffees were big and foamy and very “American.” The mugs were a mile high and the foamy steamed milk even higher creating mustaches of white and peaks on our noses as we sipped. “Delish.”

Then, by coincidence, reader Richard Sumner wrote me about what he believes to be the “friendliest coffee-house and certainly the best cup of coffee” he’s had in the area for a long time. “Coffee-and-Friends” at 23, Boulevard Beaumarchais (4th) has a Swing-era theme, and is run by a French-German husband and wife team, Frank and Hélène Bosselmann. Frank brings in specially chosen coffee beans for his brew. Since they happen to be friends of the author, it’s hard to tell if his recommendation is biased without a “looky-see” myself, but maybe some of you will have chance before I do to try it and see for yourself.

According to articles I’ve read and the standing-room-only scene in the new Starbucks in Paris, the French are taking quickly to the American style Lattes and Frappuccinos along with the no-smoking atmosphere. I didn’t notice anyone leaving with a cup “to-go,” however, still against the French sensitivity to eating on the street in public.

The first café was founded in Paris over 300 years ago — Le Procope, a Latin Quarter restaurant that claims to be the world’s oldest restaurant still open for business. Paris has almost 3000 establishments listed as “cafés” in the yellow pages of the Paris directory and now three Starbucks (Opéra, La Défense, Montparnasse).

Personally, that’s three too many for me. I am deeply upset to think that another American icon has infiltrated the French scene along with MacDonald’s and The Gap. What is our French world coming to? Can’t we just have our Café Crèmes and Espressos just like we always did, in their white porcelain cups with a sugar cube and a little square of chocolate on the saucer at a café table with an ashtray and a view of the Parisian world around us without interference?

Isn’t it the difference in the two worlds the reason we are here?

A la prochaine…


Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]

P.S. Participants are already claiming seats at our upcoming Travel Writer Workshop here in Paris, scheduled for May 9-12, 2004. Now is the time to sign on. Do so before the end of the month, and you save $100 on the enrollment fee. If you’re interested in attending — and learning how you can live the writer’s life — then I urge you to reserve your seat soon. In years past we’ve been able to schedule a second session to accommodate overflow, but this year the speakers’ schedules won’t allow it. So once this workshop fills up, that’s it. For details:


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