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How do Parisians drink their coffee?


Coffee culture is distinctly different across the globe. In the UK, our love affair with tea is legendary, but we’ve also embraced coffee wholeheartedly. When it comes to coffee sophistication, however, few cities compare to Paris. Parisians are known for their unique relationship with coffee, one steeped in tradition, elegance, and a touch of the unexpected. So, how exactly do Parisians drink their coffee? Let’s delve into the world of Parisian coffee culture.


Why do French drink coffee from bowls?

One of the most intriguing aspects of French coffee culture is the practice of drinking coffee, particularly café au lait, from bowls. Yes, you read that right: bowls. Not cups or mugs. For the uninitiated, this might seem a bit peculiar, but there’s a method to this beautiful French madness.

History and Convenience

This bowl-drinking tradition has rustic origins. Historically, French households did not have a plethora of specialised crockery. A bowl was a versatile item that could be used for soups, stews, milk, wine, and yes, coffee. Over time, as these households acquired more crockery, the bowl’s function evolved to include the morning ritual of coffee drinking.

“In France, morning rituals intertwine with nostalgia. A bowl of coffee reminds many of mornings at their grandparents’ homes, where modern mugs were few, but bowls were plenty.” – French Historian, Camille Desmoulins.

Pairing with Breakfast

Bowl-sized coffees are usually consumed during breakfast. The generous size of the bowl makes it easier to dip breakfast items, such as the quintessential croissant or a slice of baguette smeared with butter and jam. The experience is a delightful mix of textures: the crispness of fresh bread softened by the warmth and richness of the coffee.

A Morning Affair

It’s essential to note that this bowl-drinking custom is mostly a morning tradition. As the day progresses, Parisians revert to more conventional coffee cups, especially when frequenting cafes.

Other Parisian Coffee Quirks

Beyond the bowl, Parisians have cultivated an array of coffee habits and preferences that set them apart.

The Espresso Dominance

If you walk into a Parisian café and simply ask for a “café”, you’ll be presented with an espresso. This dark, concentrated form of coffee is the default and the most popular choice in Paris.

Noisette: A Hint of Creaminess

For those who find espresso too strong, there’s the noisette, which means ‘hazelnut’ in French. It’s essentially an espresso with a drop of milk or cream. The name derives not from any flavouring but from the colour the coffee assumes once the milk is added.

Café Crème vs. Cappuccino

If you’re seeking something closer to a cappuccino, you’d order a café crème. This beverage is espresso topped with steamed milk and a little foam. However, it’s essential to remember that it differs from the cappuccino due to its foam-to-milk ratio.

  • Espresso: Strong, black coffee served in a small cup.
  • Noisette: Espresso with a drop of milk or cream.
  • Café Crème: Espresso with steamed milk and foam, akin to a cappuccino.

Afternoon and Evening Coffee

Unlike the Italians, Parisians have no qualms about drinking coffee in the evening. An espresso after dinner is common and considered an excellent way to aid digestion.

Embracing the Tradition

While modern influences from coffee giants like Starbucks have made an impact, traditional Parisian coffee culture remains robust. For Parisians, coffee is not just a beverage; it’s an experience, a moment of respite, a ritual that commands respect and savouring.

In conclusion, if you ever find yourself in the romantic streets of Paris and decide to venture into a cosy café, remember these coffee traditions. Engage in them, and you’ll not only enjoy a delightful cup of coffee but also experience a slice of authentic Parisian culture.