Where to Drink Specialty Coffee in Paris

13 December 2013

Wine, cheese, coffee and pastry- the bedrock of most idyllic Parisian holidays. And while the city delivers on nearly each of these crucial comestibles, they’ve fallen terribly short for years when it comes to the swill masquerading as coffee. That’s right, le café has been much maligned (I’ve alluded to this HERE and in this interview) and with good reason – the beans (typically Robusta) tend to be substandard in quality and over-roasted; the machines are old and ill-managed and the baristas are either poorly trained or completely indifferent (or both). I can no longer count on two hands the number of times I’ve been served espresso that had been sitting at the bar, completely forgotten in the shuffle of other orders (or in many cases, conversation that distracted the waiters), only to have it arrive cold and undrinkable.

If you’re used to drinking watered-down coffee in your hometown – and this is by no means a reproach; the average home-brewed coffee seems to naturally produce a weak, tasteless product -you may not find Paris coffee that offensive. I started drinking coffee upon moving to Paris but it was really only once I traveled to London and New York, homes to more established specialty coffee cultures, that I could clearly distinguish between what I was being served in Paris and what coffee was truly meant to be – a flavorful reflection of the beans roasted (and their origins) and the hands that prepared it.

The other thing to keep in mind is the act of ordering and consuming coffee in much of France is less about the actual drink and more about experience and effect – it’s often an accessory to café conversation or strictly consumed for the jolt it produces (and judging by French office life, one is never enough). As a visitor, part of the Paris experience is loafing around cafés that overlook bustling boulevards. Unequivocally good coffee should be part of the fantasy.

Fortunately, the arrival of foreign-born or trained baristas, a veritable métier, to be sure, within the last two years has ushered in a wave of coffee shops that are single-handedly responsible for shifting perception and tastes among locals. Part of a mushrooming movement, these spots are absolutely worth seeking out on your next visit.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Twitter know that I can usually be found caffeinating at one of the below spots at least 2-3x a week. Why? The product, the experience and the sense of community they offer.
Télescope, Paris

The below comes after months of requests to put some of the city’s best into an easily accessible post. Those marked * are personal favorites I frequent the most (List will be updated as the coffee community evolves). 

HolyBelly* – there aren’t enough words to express how much I adore this café-restaurant. Stellar coffee prepared by Nico Alary- the wonderfully warm co-owner and barista previously of Market Lane in Melbourne- and seasonal dishes for breakfast and lunch concocted by co-owner Sarah Mouchot. This is Australian brekkie-culture done right.

Télescope* – perhaps the spot I’ve written about the most. Situated just behind the Palais Royal, it’s the brainchild of Nicolas Clerc, a former photographer. The filtered coffee here is my go-to drink of choice but everything on the menu deserves tasting.

Loustic*Channa Galhenage’s north Marais coffee shop wins high marks on ambience, design, and seriously well-executed drinks. Emperor Norton provides many of the snacks (and that’s always a win). Order the V60 pour-over.

Fondation Café* – a teeny tiny espresso bar from Chris Nielson, the Australian barista formerly of Ten Belles, and two associates. Nielson is the first in Paris to brew on designer Kees Van Der Westen’s ‘Spirit’, a machine with equal parts striking design and high performance power. Roasts beans from Belleville Brûlerie (see below). Opens at 8am, ideal for a quick breakfast. Coffee available to-go. (No bathroom)

Steel Coffeeshop & Cyclewear *– consider this a smart brand extension of Steel Magazine, France’s leading authority on urban cycling, outdoor cycling and cycling overall as a lifestyle practice. It blends quality specialty coffee (with Fondation Café’s former barista Damien manning the coffee program) with a selective edit of cycling gear for amateurs and hardcore road racers. A coffee-concept store that has natural synergies! Located on a calm, quiet street in the 11th arrondissement.

Honor Café* – the city’s first outdoor courtyard café and by far some of its superior. Behind the concept are experts Angelle and Danny who can and would love to share their knowledge with you. Grab a seat at the bar and take them up on the opportunity to learn more about the craft. More on them in my article for the NYT T Magazine.

O Coffeeshop – a permanent location by Timothée Teyssier (formerly of KB) coming in September.

Le Bal Café – not many tourists find themselves in the Place de Clichy neighborhood but this café annexe to Le Bal art gallery is worth a special visit as much for the coffee as the anglo fare.

Ten Belles* – the perfect collaboration between coffee authorities Thomas Lehoux and the crew from Le Bal (Anselme Blayney, Alice Quillet, Anna Trattles). Lehoux’s team mans the bar while Quillet/Trattles handle the comforts: sandwiches, salads, cakes and pastries.

Belleville Brûleriethe city’s most venerated roastery located in Belleville from the city’s star baristas: David Flynn, formerly of Télescope; Thomas Lehoux of Ten Belles; Anselme Blayney of Ten Belles/LeBal. The space is closed for roasting during the week but open to the public for coffee and cuppings on Saturdays.

Tuck Shop – Australian-owned and run with excellent coffee, only a few doors up from HolyBelly. The space is small so go early and cozy up with a book. The lunch menu of soup, salads and sandwiches, which comes with a coffee, is inexpensive and consistently good. CLOSED, changing ownership. Now called Le Poutch and is a great spot for lunch.

Café Craft– the first spot in Paris to properly merge office space + quality coffee. For the price of excellent coffee and a snack, you can latch onto the wi-fi and set yourself up at a proper work station. If you’re staying for lunch, get the pasta salad with chicken and red cabbage – does the trick everytime!

Coutume Café a Franco-Australian duo is behind this mega successful coffee operation which swells with both neighborhood regulars and out-of-towners the second the doors open. You can also find their house-roasted coffee at the new café in the Institut Finlandais, Claus (fantastic breakfast spot), Café Madam, Thank You, My Deer (gluten-free café) and in many restaurants across the city. Siphon is one of their many claims to fame.

Terres de Café – one of the city’s early specialty coffee pioneers (est. 2009) with a strong selection of micro-lots. Beans are roasted in Strasbourg but the city now counts 5 boutiques, all of which offer tastings and carry all the necessary coffee equipment and accessories for at-home brewing. Founder-owner Christophe Servell was named Best Roaster in France (Meilleur Torréfacteur de France) for 2015 and his espresso blend from Ethiopia Dalle Belachez, Yéti Wagari and Garjeda Anfiloo was named Best Blend of the year.

Frenchie-to-Go* – count on Gregory Marchand’s exacting crew to transfer the same attention to each cup. Pairs beautifully with one of Camille Malmquist’s donuts or bacon scones. To-go cups available.

L’Arbre à Café single-origin coffee, equipment and chocolate from Claudio Corallo chocolates are among the expert offerings at this ultra tiny shop and roaster directly across the street from Frenchie-to-Go. Come for specialized beans and cold-brewed coffee.

Strada Café – sadly overlooked by most coffee fanatics for the sheer fact that its location is rather inconspicuous. This small but cozy coffee shop is situated on rue du Temple in a long stretch of textile shops, about equidistant from metros Arts et Métiers and Rambuteau. But it’s worth seeking out: they work exclusively with L’Arbre à Café roasters (see above) and offer nice, fresh lunch options daily (brunch on Sundays).

La Caféothèque – arguably the pioneer of the coffee movement in Paris; an artisanal roaster/coffee shop located a few blocks from Hôtel de Ville. The beans are sourced from all over the world and roasted in front of you.

Café Lomi* – an independent roastery in the 18th arrondissement that does double duty as a popular café; specialized in the Chemex pour-over but also serves fresh juices and pastries. Workshops often offered on the weekends (check the website!)

Fragments– formerly known as Black Market and now with a new location in the Marais. Expect reliably good roasts from a host of purveyors (Belleville, Coutume, etc.) and a compact but smart savory menu. In the warmer months, take the coffee to go and head to nearby Place des Vosges.

The Broken Armsometimes I wonder which is the bigger draw here, the goods the Broken Arm trio carries in their commodious concept store or the coffee and stunning natural light in the adjacent café. Of little importance, it’s a fine location to caffeinate with well-trained staff.

KB Café – nails the location (rue des Martyrs in the 9th aka ‘hipster headquarters’ according to one recent NYT article) and coffee which you’ll wait what seems like an inordinately long time for unless you become a regular (so I’ve been told).

Boot Café – a brand new, pint-size espresso bar in a former shoemaker shop, just around the corner from the much-loved concept store Merci. The crew brews Belleville beans and thoughtfully stocks Emperor Norton cakes and confections under glass cloches on the counter. Repeat: pint-size, don’t expect space for lingering but do make this your regular take-away spot.

Matamata – if the name sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve read that Matamata is the name of the rural town in New Zealand where Peter Jackson filmed the Hobbiton scenes from Lord of the Rings. In Paris, it’s the name of a new coffee shop in the 2nd arrondissement with cozy seating, light fare for breakfast, brunch and lunch and cakes served all afternoon.

Cream – Only a few blocks from Belleville Brûlerie, the city’s go-to roaster, this is the newest specialty coffee shop to open from Joe & Maxime, formerly of Ten Belles. Fantastic space for a quick breakfast or lunch and expert coffee before heading to the Buttes Chaumont park for a stroll.

Obla-Di – perhaps the hippest (or should I say, most Instagrammable?) joint in town, opened by the founders of fashion brand April77. Lloyd, the Australian barista who amassed a loyal following during his time at Boot Café, is in charge of the coffee program here, with beans supplied by Café Lomi. An in-house chef prepares killer granola, excellent tea cakes and scones (many are vegan) and perhaps the only vegan burger worth speaking about in the city (Purple Haze). The music is often cranked up too loud to hear your neighbor speak but there’s a great vibe.

Café Oberkampf *– the newest to the neighborhood and (dangerously) situated directly across the street from Al Taglio pizza. You might know the owner, Guy, if you frequent the Canal Saint-Martin shared plates bar Marilou. At this specialty coffee shop (Coutume beans), expect a solid food selection to wash down that coffee: Shakshuka, grilled sandwiches (three cheese & chili jam or chicken pesto to start), salads, homemade granola and very tempting cakes.

Le Peloton Café – A continuing example of how natural the union is between bikes & coffee, this Marais coffee stop arrives via Christian and Paul, owners of the ten year-old cycling tour company Bike About Tours. The round counter encompassing the bar is a welcome invitation to chat with the barista on-duty (likely Christian for the moment) about biking in and around Paris. The duo uses Belleville Brûlerie beans and stocks a selection of their roasts for at-home brews.

Radio Daysnot yet visited. 

Inside Café Loustic

Paris by Mouth, the collective food website for which I am a contributing editor, just published a terrific guide to coffee, including a thorough background on the state of the scene in Parishow to order it (super important!) and a look at what to expect when you’re cupping.

Illustrator Jane Smith has conveniently laid out some of the top spots in this fantastic little map for the December 2013 issue of Caffeine Magazine.

For a recent update that will only set you back a few bucks, pick up the foldable Paris Specialty Coffee Map, published this year by Blue Crow Media in London.

  • Colleen Gill

    Thanks for all your great recommendations Lindsey! Whenever I want to check out a new restaurant I always go to your paris guide for inspiration! Loving your book as well!