It is no secret why French coffee sucks. It is because instead of brewing it properly they use the instant variety. But if you ask a Frenchmen about this, he will most likely reply that real French don’t drink “weak American-style coffee,” they drink espresso. The Nescafe Instant Coffee in every store, he’ll say, is just there so tourists have something to drink.
This is a lie, Europeans are second only to Asians in consuming instant coffee. But even if it were true, it does not explain why France, the cafe capitol of the world, has such horrible Espresso.
The New York Times steps in to answer the question.
I want to put it in stronger terms, but I’ll leave it to Duane Sorensen of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, who once asked me: “Why does the coffee in Paris suck so bad?”
Maybe it’s because Paris cafes do all the little things wrong: old beans, over-roasted beans, second-rate machines. Coffee is ground in batches, not to order. Order a café crème or noisette and out comes a box of U.H.T. milk, a shelf-stable dairy product. Even the venerable Cafés Verlet (256 rue Saint-Honoré, 011-33-01-42-606-739) ignores a basic rule and keeps roasted beans in open barrels.
The composition of most espresso blends doesn’t help things. James Freeman of Blue Bottle Coffee often points out that the French have a taste for robusta, a low-cost, low-quality bean that gives good crema but can taste thin and harsh. Or, to paraphrase a conversation I had with Corby Kummer, drinking robusta is like putting balsa wood in your mouth.
So there you have it. Not only do the French drink loads of low-quality instant coffee, they also cut corners when brewing their espresso. If you want a quality cup of coffee next time you’re traveling in Paris, you best bet it to find the nearest McDonald’s or Starbucks. Thankfully they’ve just opened up a new McDonald’s in the Louvre.
(Hat tip: Joey)