paris: spro happens

April 6, 2009 – 11:37 pm


consider how much more effectually those frenchies do espresso advertising and how much worse the coffee actually tastes … and you end up with quite the cognitive gap.

also, a market opportunity of staggering opportunity. think about paris: a jam-packed capital city of people perpetually on the move, of ever-present gaggles of jet-lagged tourists, of natives long accustomed to throwing down shots and snobbily defending the finest of foods — and nothing but lungo-lungo espresso gushers at every brasserie in town. a well-placed espresso bar of superior product would have to be one of the most logical things imaginable.

the right-bank soluna, “cafeotheque de paris,” is making an admirable stab. it’s like your grandma’s kitchen, if your grandma was an effervescent bohemian with a weakness for studly brazilian men and a la marzocco fb80 on the counter.

“this is my school of coffeeology,” she crowed, then dosed her single-estate brazilian espresso into the portafilter and traipsed around the shop waving it under our noses and demanding that we inhale. “see? see?!” she urged. “the best coffee in the world.” there was little tamping to speak of, and … well, what do you know. lungo gushers spurting out of the spouts. we braced for tangy weirdness, but didn’t have to. it was just watery coffee. not bad tasting at all, but also not what we would call spro. merely a pleasantly aromatic, watery shot of peanuty, tea-like coffee.

emilio rodriguez, the “guest barista” from brazil (yes, the producing country) lumbered out of the side room wearing — seriously — a tropical shirt and a juan valdez fedora, ceasing for the moment his pursuit of youtube barista videos. he gamely poured some squiggly latte art. “ooohs” and “aaahs” all around. “see?” she said. “see?!”

gloria, as she identified herself, is essentially pulling espresso the way parisians have always pulled espresso — long and fast — but with vastly better coffee. we have no idea who imports it for her … we tried to inquire a bit, but she bustled off to tutor a distinguished couple on a settee in the corner in the art of discerning “l’essence du cafe,” or sniffing the smelling oils.

most bizarre, perhaps, was the wall of drawers, each labeled with a different coffee-producing country including many to which your high-stepping snobbery may not have been introduced: sudan. ivory coast. the comoran islands. she claimed to have coffee on hand from 72 separate countries. not all for sale or for drinking, mind you, but for the pursuit of “cafeologie.” even with the aid of these globally connected woven webs, this blog is having a hard time finding half that many coffee producing countries.

leave it to a marais cafe, just a couple doors down from the now-trendy chez julien, to introduce paris to specialty coffee — but not at all in the way that the rest of the world conceives of it. the hinged window clacked, notre dame clanged across the seine and a customer forgot to pay, as gloria rambled on about “le nez du cafe.” one of those dreamy-eyed 20-something american girls you see wandering around paris in long flowered skirts stumbled in, inhaled and tried a practiced sentence of french or two at the bar.

“c’est mon universite’ de cafeologie,” gloria chirped. “voyez, voyez!”

hoffmann tipped us off, informed apparently by his parents. after years of swilling the acrid french espresso, we’re grateful for the reprieve.