Sock juice. Cat pee. These are two choice monikers the French use to describe American coffee (and they sound only slightly less gross in the language of Molière*). Learn to recognize these phrases and prepare to laugh defiantly the next time you hear them, for we Yanks are cultivating a coffee culture to rival the best Parisian café.
For one thing, a move States-side from Europe no longer means giving up the prized ‘petit café.’ Jeb Buffington spent 23 years living in Paris, where ‘un café bien serré’ or ‘tightly packed’ espresso was part of his daily routine. Then he moved to the American South — what unenlightened French people might assume to be a coffee desert. They would be wrong.
“Here in Atlanta, my favorite [café] is called Aurora. And they’re just kind of conscious about the machine that they use and the grind that they use,” Buffington says. “To me the beans have to be really good. The pressure, too.”
Indeed, where McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts once prevailed most US cities now have a handful of coffee shops equipped with not only espresso machines, but baristas with the skills to use them correctly. Kevin Sinnott (www.coffeecompanion.com) is a coffee expert who’s authored two books and a DVD on the subject. He explains that the American fascination with the Euro-style coffee began years ago — and it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
“The real news is Third Wave Coffee,” Sinnott says. “Here the emphasis is on finding the best quality coffee beans, ironically based at least partly on the French wine idealization of terroir.” For purists, this means consuming a single farm’s heirloom beans minimally roasted, freshly ground, then hand-poured using drip brewing methods. And, of course, no milk. “The goal of this movement is to explore the globe’s coffees with as much transparency as possible. Anything that appears to add gauze between the farmer’s cultivated bean and the end-user is considered an adornment and obstructive,” explains Sinnott. “This means U.S. consumers are more likely to view coffee-making as a culinary art.”
With more interest in producing a premium cup, we in the US can finally recommend joe by the mug to even the most discerning French palettes. After all, generations of American expats have switched the demitasse. As director of a study abroad program, Professor Cheryl Morgan spends every third or fourth year living in the city of lights. “I don’t drink a lot of espresso in the States, but I do in France,” she says “A good one for me has a little foam on the top and it has a clean coffee taste and it’s not bitter.” And then there’s more to sipping coffee than just the taste. As the French like to point out, in a Paris café for 2 euros you can sit for hours and gaze at one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Think of the coffee as a bonus.
* Jus de chausettes. Pipi de chat.