Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Antonia Cafe, Nice France

Ok, so you are probably thinking why I'm writing about coffee in France since this is a Seattle Coffee blog. If it were not for Howard Schultz's visit to Europe and his idea of recreating Italian coffee here in the US, the popularity of espresso based drinks and therefore all of the small high end coffee shops wouldn't be what they are today. I wanted to compare the coffee that I've been having recently to what is made in Europe.

My wife and I needed to get away from the mist and cold of Seattle, so we headed to Nice, France for a few days of a 10 day trip to France. Since on the first morning my wife and kids were sound asleep, I snuck out to get my daily dose of caffeine. About 100 feet from the apartment that we rented was a small outdoor cafe: Antonia Cafe. For those of you who are movie buffs, Place Rossetti was where a scene in Ronin [Blu-ray]was filmed. Shortly after the group stole the case and Gregor escaped, DeNiro left the apartment and was in a small square watching a group sing outside a church.

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Back to coffee. The first thing that you notice when you look at a coffee menu in France is that the terms don't exactly match what we have in the US. An espresso is usually called an expresso, and everything else is a cappucino, even though they are called different things. The main difference is how much milk that they add. A cafe au lait is like a small cappucino, a cappucino is a medium cappucino, and a cafe creme is a large cappucino. In the US, the major distinction between a latte and a cappucino is that the latte has no foam and the cappucino does. Everything over there has foam.

That aside, the coffee over there is just blah. It isn't good at all. Since I didn't have much luck with the milk based drinks, I switched to espresso. It didn't help. It's just crap coffee. Honestly, I don't know if it was old beans, bad beans, horrible attention to detail, bad milk or a combination of the above, but I wasn't impressed. If you are used to drinking coffee from a reputable place in Seattle, the average cafe in France will pale in comparison. I was hoping to go to the Illy location in Paris, but it was too far away to make sense.

One thing that I give to the French is how they drink their coffee. When they are going out to drink coffee, they plant their ass in a chair and take their time. They drink out of a real cup. My biggest pet peeve about coffee in the US is the use of disposable cups to such a high degree. These soccer moms have an Obama bumper sticker on their Prius, but have to carry around a big 'ole disposable paper cup with the plastic lid. For God's sake, they will even drink their coffee in a disposable cup when they are drinking at the damn coffee shop. The coffee in France might be crap, but at least they can spare an extra 10 minutes out of their day to just sit and contemplate life for a while instead of living life at such a frenetic pace.

Ok, so what do they do over there if they need to drink something quickly and they truly can't spare 10 or 15 minutes? Let me clue you in to a little secret: think about the word espresso. Doesn't it sound similar to express? as in quick? Espresso was specifically designed to be made quickly and consumed quickly. The typical European business person will walk into a cafe, order an espresso, plop a euro or 2 down on the counter, throw some sugar in there and shoot it down in less than 2 minutes. Guess what? They didn't have to walk around parading with their precious paper cup for all to see.

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