Coffee is important to us French people. You start as a child by dunking a sugar cube into black espresso and you move on to the full cup around the time you hit high school. I remember one particular day when a class had been cancelled, a group of us seventeen-year-olds packed ourselves in the nearest café and spent the morning procrastinating about the state of the world whilst hugging a small espresso cup. This might be an odd sight anywhere else in the world, but not there or then, and not now. You don’t get more French than this!
French people like strong coffee
One of the adjustments I’ve had to make in the UK is to try to enjoy weak coffee. You can’t really buy the strong stuff anywhere unless you go independent. We have a Tassimo machine and I know for a fact that it goes from strength one to seven, but you can only get up to strength four/five in the UK. So we get my mum to send us the stronger stuff in the post. I’m afraid good coffee is a bit of a deal breaker.
Know your French coffee – a short lexicon
I thought I knew which was which, and then I went on the internet to double-check, and it turns out that French people have the same conversation about coffee that the British have about whether you should put milk first or last in your cup of tea. No one agrees on anything apart from the basic ‘espresso’.
- ‘un espresso’, is a strong short black coffee
- ‘un café crème’, is an espresso with milk and a creamy top
- ‘un café noisette’, is a black coffee with the tiniest bit of milk in it and a creamy top. Noisette means ‘hazelnut’, and that is the colour of your coffee.
- You won’t find big milky coffees in traditional French cafés. The closest you would get to one is by asking for ‘un café au lait’, but you might get told they don’t serve it anyway. A café au lait is more of a breakfast drink, which French people drink at home from typically large bowls.
- ‘un déca’ will get you a decaf coffee.
- If you want any other type of coffee, you will probably need to go to a coffee shop chain rather than a traditional French café.
For a more information on French people’s coffee drinking habits, check out this article on Paris-Wise.