Trail of the unexpected: Paris' coffee culture

Parisian coffee was once a bitter black mark on French cuisine. No longer, says Tilly Culme-Seymour

Almost a decade ago, I was living in Paris as part of a university exchange programme. And if one thing was synonymous with la vie française (alongside eating tartine, drinking beaujolais nouveau and smoking) it was drinking strong, very bitter coffee. My morning caffeine hit at the bar on the corner of the rue des Saints-Pères was something I just did, rather than an event that brought any enjoyment. I wondered why almost everything in the city tasted wonderful except the coffee, which was, well, dégueulasse.

Inexplicably, France, which prides itself on gastronomic excellence, seemed willing to put up with average coffee. So, on a return trip I decided to see if anything had changed. I took a taxi to the 17th arrondissement, west of the boulevard de Clichy, to Café Lomi.

I had heard that they roasted some of the best coffee in Paris, favoured by a new generation of café owners and restaurateurs, such as Alice Quillet and Ana Trattles, chefs at Le Bal Café, a new gallery/ brasserie which is causing a stir for its robust British-French cooking.

Café Lomi looks from the outside like a small, cluttered science laboratory. It is not a café at all, but a wholesale supply initiative set up by specialist coffee roasters, Aleaume Paturle and Paul Arnephy. Used for "cupping" sessions – coffee tastings where experts swill, savour, and assess the quality of the beans – and experimenting with brewing techniques, the rue de Saussure atelier is where all but the roasting takes place (a warehouse in the banlieue serves this purpose).

"The work of the roaster is to source the best coffee from the best plantations, and to bring out the essential characteristics of the bean through the roasting process," said Aleaume.

People who stop by are welcomed and will be given a cup of their favourite brew for the trouble, as was the case when three coffee-starved Australians knocked on the window in need of espresso. (Aleaume recommends calling ahead before you plan to visit.) But, for now, Paul and Aleaume are keeping things simple: no cash register, no cakes, just them and the coffee.

When I ask for something to keep me going until the tasting, Paul offered me a choice of espresso-based coffees, filter, or Chemex (a design-classic coffee maker in the shape of an hour-glass). Nursing an expertly fern-leaved flat white, I asked him what difference my choice would make when it came to tasting the beans.

"An espresso is like a magnifying glass – it all starts with the espresso. But single estate especially is best tasted in a drip, a piston or a Chemex, which allow the particular characteristics of the coffee to shine."

This pursuit of the right way to taste is a specialist interest. Most of Lomi's clients request the standard espresso blend, a product arrived at after the lengthy process of balancing and harmonising from the initial tastings.

From nearby café Kooka Boora, where customers can order bags of Lomi beans, to Sugarplum in the studenty 5th arrondissement with its glorious cheesecake and Génoise sponges to go with coffee, the advent of the Lomi bean has had a transformative effect on the quality of coffee you can expect in plum pockets of the city.

Le Bal Café is typical of the sort of place that is interested in sourcing coffee from suppliers who don't over-roast their beans (the reason why most French coffees taste bitter). Ana and Alice met while working at Rose Bakery and set up the café with Alice's husband, Anselme. Monthly cupping sessions and competitions in latte art, called Frog Fight, take place both at Le Bal and at the Lomi atelier and are open to anyone interested in tasting (and admiring) high-class coffee. Expect the wine to flow and rowdy argument when it comes to who wins the prizes.

"Culturally, we became used to drinking Robusta coffees from west and central Africa," Aleaume said when I questioned him about the grades of coffee most commonly used. Robusta beans are harsher in taste, and contain up to 50 per cent more caffeine than highly prized Arabica. "The food in France – it is decent everywhere. With coffee, what we had was drinkable. Just. There has not been enough drive to change."

Putting me through my paces, Aleaume weighed a Guatemalan and an Ethiopian single estate for me to try. He whisked around the cups on the table like a magician. Pushing back the thick grounds that had settled creamily on the surface, I took in the aroma, the first step to tasting. The Ethiopian was full of bright citrus notes – Paul likened it to a sweet lemon cake. The Guatemalan smelled of tobacco and earth. Then we slurped the cooled coffee. ("Good coffee will still taste good when it is almost room temperature," said Paul.)

Cupping is a painstaking process but it teaches you about what to look for when you buy, whether you like your coffee with milk, in which case a higher acidity coffee works best, or if you take it long and black.

Before leaving, I asked Aleaume if he would be interested in supplying coffee further afield, to neighbouring European countries. He shrugged: "We want Paris, Paris, and Paris." Vive la revolution.

* Café Lomi, 9 rue de Saussure, 75017 (00 33 9 51 27 46 31; cafelomi.com). Details of Frog Fight events are at frogfight.tumblr.com.

* Le Bal Café, 6 Impasse de la Défense, 75018 (00 33 1 44 70 75 51; le-bal.fr)

* Kooka Boora, 62 rue des Martyrs, 75009 (00 33 1 56 92 12 41)

* Sugarplum, 68 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, 75005 (00 33 1 46 34 07 43; sugarplumcakeshop.com)

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam