Parisian Cafés, Starbucks and the Solution

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To all the people who said I would be too busy to keep a blog while abroad: you were right. Especially since Paris has served as a major source of inspiration for my fiction writing, I spend little time writing anything else.

But today I am writing at a café, and cafés are what I want to speak about. They are part of the core of Paris: you can find them in every major corner in every neighborhood. Some are world-famous like Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, others have quite uncreative names, going by the name of its street, square or area.

What I did not expect to find out in Paris is that most cafés work like restaurants and even bars. In Brazil and the US, cafés are places where you go primarily for coffee and where you may have pastries or a light meal. But Parisian cafés are more than a coffee destination: they serve three-course lunches and dinners, and turn into bars at night. Yet, this wasn’t what surprised me the most about Parisian cafés. It was the size of their coffee. 

First, I think the taste of their coffee is great: strong and pure. But man, is it small. I mean, the coffee is small. It comes in a tiny coffee cup, unless it has some milk in it, like a cappuccino, in which case it comes in a less tiny version of the coffee cup. The first time I had Parisian coffee, I was transported back to childhood in Brazil where I’d have coffee with my family on weekend afternoons in the same fashion: small, strong and pure, but on a sweaty summer’s day (even winter feels like summer in Goiânia).

Although I enjoy it, going to a Parisian café for coffee isn’t optimal. For instance, there was a miraculous Tuesday morning in mid-March when the sun appeared with its full sunshine. I left my coat at home, and it was the first time I spent the afternoon at a park, reading and talking to a friend.

Believing that the weather would continue like that, two days later I decided to wake up earlier and walk to Esplanades des Invalides to write some fiction since it was halfway between my apartment and the Musée d’Orsay, where I’d have my morning class. But as soon as I left home, the sunny scenery of my imagination was replaced by the cold fog that had crept over Paris overnight. By the time I arrived at the Esplanade I knew I couldn’t sit down outdoors for long, so I decided to find a café.

The closest Starbucks was a detour from my way to the museum, so I continued to walk until I found a classic French café that I randomly judged would serve good coffee. The outdoors seats were all empty. When I entered, the waiter motioned towards the main seating area to the right and I took a seat where I could both look out the window and watch the morning news on TV. The inside was decorated in regal red, elegant furniture. Classic tall windows opened the view to Boulevard Saint-Germain. It was a seventh-arrondissement type of place. The only other customer, a middle-aged man, was sitting in a corner having breakfast and reading newspapers. The news anchor announced that the mayor would offer free subway rides the next day as an attempt to remedy excessive pollution levels.

I ordered a coffee and took my notebook and pen out of my bag. When it arrived, I poured a pack of sugar, mixed it with a miniature spoon, careful not to spill a sip’s worth of coffee. For what seemed like too short a time I went on sipping my coffee and writing. I would briefly glance at the news anchor, who was now leading a debate about the rise of the extreme right in France, observe the man in the corner ordering his third cup, cars outside waiting for the traffic lights behind him. When returning to my coffee, I realized it was nearly over, and no more than ten minutes had passed. I broke my sip into a half sip, until there was nothing left to drink.

You must be thinking, why doesn’t she just buy another coffee? Because as a college student living in the 7th arrondissement in Paris, either I buy many coffees at fancy cafés or I visit other countries. I’m the first to complain that Starbucks is more expensive here than it is in America. But in fact, this tiny coffee cost me €2.50 and even if I bought two it wouldn’t amount to the tall size at Starbucks, which costs way less if it’s an Americano, and the same price if it’s a signature drink (like the almighty Caramel Macchiato). 

The point, however, isn’t the price but rather the act of going to a Parisian café and drinking coffee. Couldn’t this experience last a little longer with a larger coffee? What is the problem with offering larger coffee cups? I know not everyone wants to drink as much coffee as I do, and for them there will always be the tiny doses, but what about those who do? The larger the coffee the longer the experience, the more I can write and the more I can observe random strangers passing by. I thought Parisian cafés were all about that.

This is why I end up settling for Starbucks when I’m looking for nothing more than coffee. I get my jar’s worth, sit down for a long time, write or read, and enjoy the free wifi, which is a plus. If I do go to a café (rarely, to be honest), I go to eat.

With all this said, I haven’t lost all hope in Parisian cafés. There is indeed one place I’ve found that perfectly replaces the Starbucks need in my life. There may be others just like it, I just haven’t found them.

It’s called Kozy Café, located a couple of blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and it’s an alternative, hipster place that serves both as a laid-back, affordable place to have lunch and as a nice work space with plenty of outlets and free wifi. But to me the most important part is that the coffee is large! Hallelujah. Meaning, their small is the size of a tall at Starbucks.

The coffee is delicious, no doubt, and varied: from Americanos to vanilla lattes and mochas. The service is a mix of French and American: you go to the desk to order and pay, but they bring your drink and/or food to your table. You can also sit outside if you’d like, and a random plus is their gluten free brownies!

So, if I’m not at a Starbucks (some of which have Nutella-filled cookies, can you believe it?) for a lack of Kozy around (as there’s only one in the city), I’m at Kozy.  And I reserve Parisian cafés for meals, although I’m still hoping to maybe find an affordable one where I can pretend to be an upcoming literary writer giving form to a bestseller (literary and bestseller are quite an oxymoron nowadays, but anyways).

I hope to write again soon, or perhaps share some fiction. À bientôt.