Giving the Paris cafe scene a jolt

Written by New York Times | Updated: Oct 5 2014, 08:22am hrs
A DECADE ago, Channa Galhenage, a Londoner, moved to Paris to work in human resources. A long-time coffee devotee, he was shocked by the espresso he tasted in many French cafes.

It was putrid, he recalled on a recent afternoon, echoing an oft-heard sentiment from expatriates. After a long time of drinking coffee like thishe went on, holding his nose and grimacingthe idea came to me that I should open something.

Last year, the gregarious Englishman did just that, opening a coffee house called Loustic in Paris Third Arrondissement.

Decorated by Dorothee Meilichzon, a 32-year-old French designer known for her elegant bric-a-brac interiors, the cozy space is an assemblage of 1950s geometric wallpapers, rough stone, plank floors and plush handmade furniture. The vibe offers a vintage-cool departure from the predictable tile floors, zinc counters, round marble tables and plastic lattice chairs found in typical Parisian cafes.

The coffee is a departure too. Using speciality beans provided by Caffenation, a noted roaster in Antwerp, Loustic champions filter coffeetypically dismissed as jus de chaussette, or sock juice, in Franceand changes the blends frequently.

We are trying to educate the public that coffee is exactly like wine, says Galhenage. It has its own taste and flavours that come from the region in which it is grown.

He is scarcely the only hyper-caffeinated entrepreneur giving a stylish and flavourful jolt to the hidebound world of cookie-cutter Parisian cafes and their frequently over-roasted industrial espresso. Over the last few years, more than a dozen new-generation spots have emerged, notably in the Third and 10th Arrondissements of the Right Bank.

Most are owned by expatriates or by French enthusiasts who discovered the intimate indie coffee house concept abroad. Innovative interior design, Wi-Fi and comfortable seats that invite day-long lounging are essential ingredients. High-end filter coffee and daily-made baked goods are also de rigueur. And nearly all of the new spots (Loustic is a rare exception) purchase beans from upstart Parisian roasting outfits like Cafe Lomi and Belleville Brulerie, both also a testament to the local bean boom.

Thanks to all of these developments, Paris is finally serving up coffees worthy of the name.

This year, the city hosted its first coffee-making competition by AeroPress, a manufacturer of innovative brewing devices. The top prize went to Melodie Knight, a barista at Boot Cafe, a tiny nook lined with white subway tiles and glossy lifestyle magazines, that was opened this year (and designed) by Phil Euell, a transplanted New Yorker and furniture designer. In May, Euell held a rapping contest at Boot (prize: free coffee for a week) to mark the birthday of the murdered hip-hop star the Notorious BIGalso undoubtedly a first for a Paris cafe.

A rival for tininess is Fondation Cafe, opened last November by Chris Nielson, an Australian transplant. The Scandinavian-minimalist decorstark white walls, white floors, raw wood tables and blond wood benchescomes courtesy of Nielsons wife, a Swedish architect named Emelie Nielson. But the marquee attraction is the espresso machine, a vast, gleaming, futuristic brushed-steel Kees van der Westen device.

Steps away, the Broken Arm takes a more maximalist approach, offering a cafe attached to a two-level concept store packed with art books, cushions, accessories and clothing by cultishly admired designers. You can sport a black leather T-shirt by Phillip Lim or psychedelic floral-print shorts from Ostwald Helgason before sipping the stores house espresso blend along with cakes, juices and changing lunch specials.

If you favour books to blouses, Marcovaldo is an Italian-owned literary cafe that hosts regular art openings and author talks. Within the book-lined space you can sit in a vintage wooden student chair at a 1960s-style Formica table while browsing a graphic novel about the life of Garibaldi in between sips of caffe corretto (made with grappa).

And when the time comes to work on your own novel, dissertation or blueprint, Craft awaits with long shared desks, power outlets, lamps, Ethernet connections and a rotating menu of artisanal espressos and filter coffees complete with tasting notes.

Outfitted in duochrome neo-industrial style, the two-year-old cafe is intended to offer a work space to the new generation of digital artisans who work on computersWeb masters, designers, photographers, says Felipe Perez, the director and pastry chef.

Five years ago, there were almost no speciality cafes in Paris, Perez says, explaining that Crafts French owner drew inspiration from American-style hangout coffee houses he frequented in New York City. The cafe in France, and especially Paris, is changing rapidly.