Brit Chick and the search for a good latte in Paris
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But France full of espresso drinkers has done little to evolve its cafe crème. An espresso topped with a splash of hot UHT milk.
UHT is that disgusting gloopy stuff my mother used to keep in cupboard in case of emergency as it never goes sour. I think it is a post war thing.
I cannot understand why the French, a nation of dairy lovers (crème Chantilly, beurre sale, brie and other such delights), can drink this demon milk substitute. Worse still, they drink it cold and have with cereal. It looks grey next to the shiny Cornflakes.
For me it destroys any coffee. You end up poring heaps of sugar in to mask the taste. Even when you ask for it ‘très blanc’ - very milky - it always comes back with a sour taste. Having had the luxury of lattes flavoured with vanilla and cinnamon topping, every morning in London, I found myself in dire straits.
Even the top restaurants did not deliver the real deal - the coffee cup was divine - in the Royal Monceau, the saucer is a mirror so you see the coffee cup twice - but the contents deeply disappointing.
One day in a moment of madness I thought about opening a cafe based on the Australian concept of a 'hole in the wall' to offer desperados like me chai lattes and banana bread. Although not sure how the business model would hold up - I can't quite see Parisians clutching coffee cups in the streets nor surrendering their hard core habits of fag and a quick espresso while brooding outside on a terrasse - the so-called "breakfast of champions".
The root of the problem is that "un cafe" in French immediately signals a short shot of black coffee, downed in one often after a meal as a form of digestif. It’s an art-form in itself.
In fact there are many flavours of espresso shots. For a country so loathe to make a latte or cappuccino, it is pretty remarkable. They have lungo and shorts, all strengths too; ristretto is the hard core caffeine blaster through to the gentle volluto.
I was determined to find a solution. I headed to the Nespresso shop on the Champs Elysees and pored over their latte machines. I tried a latte at their in-house coffee shop and it wasn't bad at all - nicely served, yummy biscuit but still had the gloopy taste of fake milk. Starbucks is the same. Identical concept - same cup, same name but different taste. The cakes are also French-ified so elegant but not gooey - more Madeleine than muffin.
Then one day I had a bolt of lightning of an idea - where would latte drinkers go, where was upmarket, international and sophisticated? Le Bonmarche, of course. The biggest and swankiest department store on Paris's Left Bank and also the oldest luxury department store in the city.
Like a homing pigeon I located an Italian cafe on the first floor and thank heavens above an Italian barista using Italian ingredients. And NON FRENCH MILK!!!
I held the glass cup in my hand and sniffed for bad milk. Nothing. It smelt of fresh cow’s milk. I whooped for joy and had 3 in a row. It is a shame this is the only place in Paris to my knowledge that serves a great latte. There is one other gem in the South - the Carlton in Cannes who are used to wingey Hollywood stars have been forced to master a milky coffee. Maybe we need a new blog in France to share good latte hotspots - the bl-atte.
Viva il caffe latte!!!!
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