French coffee had always seemed fine to me, but the magazine article talked of a renaissance in French coffee standards thanks to the growing number of micro-roasters over there (a visible trend in Leeds too for that matter as excellent North Star coffee is demonstrating) so I was happy to explore further once my day’s work was done.
The bars I tracked down (three altogether all located within swallowing distance of the Canal St Martin) certainly delivered in terms of coffee quality.
But I was struck more by how quickly a fashionable “look” imposes itself in the context of new trends. First, the cafés were all tiny. Really, truly, small. I’m a naturally happy solitary coffee-drinker used to perching on window cills but even I was surprised by the miniaturization of the setups.
Next, the cafés were urban warm minimal-aesthetic. Bleached wood mismatched tables, benches, stools and simply painted walls with pride of place given to stacks of micro-roasted coffee beans and fridges of raw milk. And a curiously un-French selection of muffins and strange looking scones. Le look Anglo-Saxon.
And finally, beards were de rigeur for pretty much all customers and staff. In every place.
I began to feel an other-worldly sensation. It was very strange indeed: a portent of the future, a sort of retro-Edwardian look which might eventually appear as weirdly unsettling as Disney’s Discoveryland aesthetic of sulphurous yellow globe lights and oily-metal low-sheen patinas.
Funnily enough, when I came to pay in the final cafe on my list, I discovered the baristas were English. So it was probably all an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy anyway.