Café Loustic | CALL IT ANYTHIN’: COFFEE: It’s the hardest thing in the world to order
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CALL IT ANYTHIN’: COFFEE: It’s the hardest thing in the world to order


10 Oct CALL IT ANYTHIN’: COFFEE: It’s the hardest thing in the world to order

I am indebted to Stephen Morrissey, 2008 World Barista Champion from Ireland (and not the former lead singer of The Smiths) for the inspiration to write this post after witnessing his talk at CoLab Antwerp in April 2016.

Legend has it that Miles Davis, upon being asked by his producer in the control booth what the track he was currently recording was called, replied “Call it anythin'”. The subsequent track bore this name.

As you know, we are an espresso bar approaching our 5th birthday in Paris, France. An espresso bar in France is the equivalent of opening an ‘ethnic’ restaurant here – an exotic curiosity imported from Anglo-Saxonia.

Paris is, of course, the world’s most visited tourist city, and we see people from all continents. France, like Italy, also has a coffee culture that spans almost as long as the invention of the espresso machine over 100 years ago.

France has a very simple coffee menu:


-Allongé (espresso with added hot water in a cappuccino sized cup or bigger = americano’ or ‘long black’)

-Café au lait or cappuccino or café crème

-Noisette (one shot of espresso and steamed milk + foam in an espresso cup, almost like a mini cappuccino)

And that’s it. Wonderfully simple, easy for customers and baristas.

Or so we thought.

Introduce a curious French public to coffee made by trained people who use baking techniques (weights, measures, time) then throw the enormous flux of people from around the world into the mix, looking for good coffee such as ours, and the customer-barista interaction becomes difficult and frustrating for the client and subsequently the barista for one reason only – what the hell is the coffee I’m really looking for called?

We are in France and here to integrate and make coffee taste better and not bitter. We use, for the most part, the French terminology stated above. However, French people are new to drip filter coffee or shy away from it as it had a (deservedly) bad reputation (there is even a nickname for it – ‘sock juice’). And people from overseas are looking for the abominably-named ‘flat white‘ and think that a ‘café crème’ is coffee with whipped cream on top (it’s not – it’s a double shot caffè latte the size of a cappuccino). FAQ’s from almost everyone (except Italians) include: what is a piccolo lattè? And how many shots of coffee do they all have? And why do you suggest not putting milk in filter coffee?

The same situation does not seem to exist in restaurants – but the context is also different. You are generally seated studying a menu, and generally, well, if you feel like the fish dish then you’ll order fish, or the meat or the vegetarian etc. and won’t pay too much attention to the accompanying foam or sauce or foraged weeds from a Scandinavian forest.

Behind the bar, given this situation we often feel we have to be GP’s asking a few questions and feeling the pulse, thyroid, and tapping away on the heart, pecs and back before we ascertain what the coffee diagnosis is going to be – in order to find out what the customer really wants. We always ask how many shots of espresso the customer wants in a drink, and we don’t charge more for extra espresso shots – sadly a rare thing in the coffee world.

In London I have seen cafés take the names off the table and just offer cup sizes and number of shots, black or white with price according to size and milk/black. Very easy and practical, but that wouldn’t work in France because of the longstanding coffee lexicon noted above, and quite frankly that would confuse the French customer further. Also – and this is important to note – France doesn’t like to dumb anything down, rather the opposite. And I feel that’s a good thing. Paris is the ultimate bourgeois town.

So in the meantime, customers and baristas in France are going to continue to have to shuffle around each other like doe-eyed teenagers at their first school disco until they work out what they want and how it can be delivered.

Here’s hoping the resulting drink is worth it.

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