Translation: Two orders of espresso, please. Yesterday morning as I sipped my modest two-ounce cup of French roast, I read an article about Starbucks’s new, obscenely large drink size. Right then, I knew I had to write an entry comparing French and American coffee cultures.
First, the drink names and sizes are different:
- café or café noir = a shot of espresso (2 ounces. A shot is always served with packaged sugar cubes. If you take your espresso sans sucre like I do, your barista will think you’re crazy.)
- noisette = a shot of expresso with a small side of cold milk (2.5 ounces. Add the milk at your discretion.)
- café crème = a shot of espresso with steamed whole milk and foam, like an American latte (6 ounces. Don’t even bother to ask for nonfat milk; your barista doesn’t have it.)
If you go to a fancier café—that is, a place that only serves coffee—you might (might!) find a cappuccino, a moccaccino, or another Italian espresso drink on the menu. On the other hand, you will be hard-pressed to find American filtered coffee, but you are welcome to buy grounds in a grocery store and brew them in the privacy of your own home.
Second, the setting of a typical French café is completely different from that of an American coffeehouse. For instance, there are two parts to a café in Paris: the bar and the non-bar. To account for wait service and tip, drink prices vary depending on whether you stand or sit. If I am in a hurry and plan to drink only a café, I like to stand at the bar. (Side note: Baristas in Paris do not tamp their grounds; they simply scoop and go. This one less step makes peak hours run that much more smoothly.) On the other hand, if I plan to take my time with a café crème, I like to sit. People who do chose to stay and sit read the newspaper or converse with other customers. No one brings a laptop.
Last, a French café is not only a place to drink coffee. Customers often drink wine or beer, and they sometimes eat a meal or a snack.
After reading about the simplicity and smallness of un café noir, can you imagine what a petite French woman would think of a Trenta (the new 31-ounce) Java Chip Frappuccino?