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Negotiating Cafes for Coffee In Paris

Café Francais
Courtesy of The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

This is a guide for drinking coffee in cafes in Paris

Café express: Sometimes called café noir, café nature, or café normal.  This is a small, espresso-style coffee. (Calling it an espresso would raise the ire of Italians everywhere.)  If you simply say you want a “café,” this is what you’re going to get.  Every time.

Café serre: A tight café express, more concentrated since it’s made with less water than a café express.

Café allonge:  A café express made with extra water during the extraction.  If you’re in a café and you want to linger longer, order one of these.

Café leger:  A café express with hot water added after it’s extracted.  Not recommended.  At all.

Café noisette:  Café express with a hazelnut-sized dollop of steamed milk floating on top.  Recommended if you find the taste of Parisian coffee off-putting.  De regeuro to order on l’autoroute or on trains, where the food, like coffee, will challenge anyone’s perception that everything in France is delicious.

Café decafeine:  Once upon a time, ordering anything decaffeinated used to give waiters the sadistic pleasure of looking down on you as a lame American.  Now they’ll all order it, too, and simply say “un deca.”

All coffees can be ordered decaffeinated by simply saying “deca” at the end of your order.  But if your older waiter grunts when you do, you might be up later than you’d like.

Café Americain:  American-style coffee is sometimes called café filter, which is brewed or filtered.  Caution:  Sometimes you’ll be given watered-down café express.  Commonly served at hotel breakfasts or at home.

Café soluble or Café instantane:
Instant coffee.  Avoid at all costs.

Café au lait:
Café express or strongly brewed coffee lightened with warm milk, served in a bowl, only at home, for breakfast.  Or in trendy “bistros” in America for $6.50.

Café crème: A café express served in a cup with warm (generally sterilized) milk added.  Available in normal or petit, in which case you as for “un petit crème.”

A café express served in a cup with lots of frothy, steamed milk.  Some cafes will put it in a foofy glass mug, add a light dusting of brown powder, and charge a whole lot more than they should for it.  If you really want a cappuccino, go to Italy.

Café viennois: Coffee with whipped cream, a drink you’ll usually find in an ice cream shop or tea salon, although some cafes will whip one up.  (Although it’s unlikely they’ll whip up real cream for it.)  If you get one in the right place, taste the whipped cream before adding it to your coffee; French whipped cream is so good, you may want to skip the coffee underneath, which will ruin it.

Café frappe or café glace: Proceed with caution: since it’s not really part of the culture, this is the French interpretation of “iced coffee,” and is generally tooth-achingly sweet and served in a chintzy portion, with one half-assed ice cube bobbling on top.  It will invariably be too expensive for what you get, so don’t get your hopes up.  You do get a cool stirrer, though.  And, if you want a good blended iced coffee, also called Shakerato, David Lebovitz has provided us with a great recipe.

Patricia Rain
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