I’m about to destroy the myth about French coffee. But before I do, I’d like to make a statement.
‘I love France. They do things better here than in a lot of countries, including my own. From campsites, to employment laws, to healthcare, to public transport, to food, to wine, to films, to beaches, to mountains. It’s a joy to live here and if I was French, I’d be proud of my country.’
Except for one thing.
When I think of France I think of croissants, claret, canard, the Eiffel tower, Gauloises cigarettes, strings of garlic, tables outside rustic cafes drinking coffee in the sunshine. Watching the autumn leaves fall onto straw coloured boules courts, copy of Sartre in hand, nothing to worry about. Everything perfectly set up for when I bring that cup to my mouth to let the black treacly liquid trickle onto my tongue. To taste the bitter liquor stab my taste buds. Prick them and feel the glow rise up to my brain. ‘Ahh, coffee.’
I might be a touch picky. It’s possible. I’ve tried all types of coffee from Bordeaux to Alsace. Lyon to Marseilles. Poitiers to Paris and back again. In bars, restaurants, vending machines, coffee carts and in people’s houses. And not one has pleased me.
Not even at home using my trusty Moka stovetop have I managed to produce something I like. I’ve tried supermarket brands, organic shop brands, speciality coffee shop brands, industrial brands, free sample brands. And again, not one – with the possible exception of two which don’t exist any more – has hit the mark.
The mark being Lavazza Rossa (before they changed their blend) that you could buy from most UK supermarkets. It wasn’t a speciality coffee at all, just your bog standard Italian espresso. But with a drop of hot milk and a lump of sugar it hit the mark beautifully. Like that Van Persie header in the World Cup against Spain. Almost perfect.
It might be that I just don’t like the French blend. I accept that wholeheartedly. I’m even open to admitting that there is coffee I like to be found here in France. There must be. This is France. Quality stalks every street. Especially here in Bordeaux.
Yet the fact remains, and I say this through experience rather than through any misplaced patriotism: the British do coffee better than the French.
There I said it. Let the battle commerce. Bows, archers, the guillotine, I’m prepared to take them all in defence of my claim.
I don’t even know why it’s the case. Perhaps, the French used to do great coffee, tried too hard and then cocked it up. Leaving us Brits, who never had good coffee in the first place, to take all the glory by simply learning from the Italians.
But I’m a patient man. And a reasonable man. So I will let you know if I drink some. Honest.