French Coffee Culture: the Good, the Bad and the UHT

Coffee-lovers of the world – prepare yourselves for a shock. After extensive research in the field I’m here to report…it is ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE to find a decent coffee in France.

coffee shock
Credit: Greatest Funny Clips

The country that gave us the word café doesn’t do Melbourne coffee. They just do ‘un café’ or ‘un grand’ which is the same thing only bigger: a thick black brew with a consistency somewhere between sump oil and tar. Even café au lait – that iconic bowl of milky breakfast coffee – now seems only to be ordered by nostalgic foreigners. The French drink their coffee straight.

22And in case you’re thinking of asking for milk on the side, think again. It’s all sterilised milk: acceptable (just) if you were living in a desert with no refrigeration, but in a land that is known for its wonderful cheeses it’s hard to comprehend this glaring culinary omission.

So I gave up on asking for my ridiculous, adjective-laden, politically-incorrect extra hot weak flat white: indeed, I gave up buying coffee at cafés. My shameful weak, milky and scalding coffee-drinking took place mainly behind closed doors.


Once I had located a plunger and some coffee beans, I had to address the problem of the milk. The closest fresh produce store was 5 kilometres away from my home. Eventually my need for a decent coffee outweighed my terror at having to drive a manual car on the wrong side of the road. The Renault Kangoo is a magnificent vehicle beloved of elderly farmers and unlicensed locals in my pocket of the Loire so my habit of driving three times around every roundabout before choosing the right exit went unnoticed.


I made it home alive with the freshest milk I’m ever likely to drink.


IMG_9483I found the best little no-spill coffee thermos in the world at a gem of a store called Casa – home of such must-have homewares as the banana transporter (see left) – and started to BYO my own coffee to farmers markets.IMG_9484


Armed with my shopping basket and Thermy, I would head straight for the pastry stall and wash down my choc-almond croissant with my home-made brew. Life was good.

And then it got better…

Two months into my 6 month stay I visited Paris, determined to make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower and find myself a decent coffee. After many hours hours surfing the net I discovered two things: 1.that Australia (and in particular Melbourne) is considered a world leader in coffee-making and 2. that the best coffee spots in Paris were owned and run by ex-pat Aussies. And then I discovered Fondation Café, a tiny Aussie-run bolthole on the Place de la République and my cup ranneth over. After two extra hot weak flat whites in rapid succession, my world was back on its axis and France was once again the second-best country in it. Aussie Aussie Aussie! Vive la France!


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