France has always been serious about its coffee. Days start and end with an espresso, and the creativity factor lies within how you’d like that espresso prepared—with a dash of hot milk (noisette), with steamed milk (café crème), or short and strong (café serré). While classic Parisian institutions like Café de Flore and La Closerie des Lilas still serve these coffees like they did back in the time of Hemingway, a cooler crop of cafes has blossomed over town these past few years filling the gap the craft coffee set were searching for: artisan coffees made with premium beans served in a space just as chic as the crowd that gathers there. This long overdue coffee revival is blessing for both locals and visitors like myself who have been searching for that perfect cortado—and better yet, in a to-go cup—at a café that is soon to become our home-away-from-home.
Stroll around the Canal Saint-Martin and you’ll find a trendier outpost of classic Parisian institutions like boulangeries and bistros. On one of the side streets leading off the canal, Ten Belles is deceivingly small when seen through the open windows from outside, but once you step in, the bustling cafe opens up with a few tables across from the bar and a bunch more upstairs in the mezzanine perch. On a nice day in Paris (which can be hard to come by), a crowd gathers on the petite terrace outside, while inside a fashionable lot of students, writers and locals living in the quartier curl up at the tables with their laptops and a cup of coffee roasted with Belleville Brûlerie beans, which co-owner Thomas Lehoux helped start. With a motto, “Drinking Good Coffee is Sexy” and blackboard signs reading “Come Get High Off Our Premium Beans,” it’s not hard to get on board with this mentality. Plus, the pastries baked on-site include gluten-free options, as well as homemade salads and sandwiches for the lunch set.
A year ago, two former Ten Belles baristas opened up CREAM around the corner from Belleville Brûlerie in Belleville’s Chinese quarter. The duo did all the renovations themselves, giving it a retro feel that’s equal parts chic and cozy. Antique mirrors with CREAM’s menu du jour hang on the walls touting homemade pastries, tartines, flatbreads and soups while a record player in the corner spins throwbacks. This could all seem pretentious, but at CREAM it just feels casual, like you stumbled upon a chic little diner that has all the elements of a perfect coffeeshop, but is in the least likeliest of places—between Chinese restaurants and markets.
Summer in Paris, let alone anywhere in France, is not the time you’ll find things opening. You’ll be lucky in August if one of your top three cafes is even open. But Ob-La-Di set up shop late-June in the Haut Marais next to the popular taqueria and speakeasy Candelaria, and since day one, the café has garnered attention from the Instagram crowd who use the retro blue-and-white tiles lining the floor as a backdrop for their photos. The space is just large enough for three small tables to line one wall and a bar to stretch across the other, mixing Mid-Century Modern décor with minimalist Scandinavian design and cacti and coffee table books on the Beats strewn about. Of course the coffee is also worth the visit, serving standards like espresso, lattes and cortados, as well as more off-the-wall drinks like the cookie dough ice cream-based affogato. The nod to The Beatles in the café’s name doesn’t hurt, either.
Starbucks has slowly crept across the country, but for those looking for an alternative spot to grab coffee to go, cafes are finally taking notice. Boot Café (pictured at top), which opened last year in the Marais in a former cordonnerie, or cobbler’s shop, proudly proclaims “This Coffee is made for walking” on its window. The coffee to-go option is also convenient in case you can’t find a seat inside the shoe box-sized café, which has two tiny tables nestled between the white tile-lined walls filled with magazines. If it weren’t for a few geometric-shaped stools placed outside, you’d probably completely miss the café, since it still sports the original cordonnerie sign.
And, while still in the Marais, there’s something about Fondation Café that has a distinctly Brooklyn feel. Maybe it’s the scene that gathers at the wooden tables out front, or the serious devotion to coffee that takes place inside the Scandinavian-style interior, complete with sheepskin throws on the seats. Espresso shots pour from a retro-looking Kees van der Westen Spirit using beans from Belleville served in signature lime green mugs. Besides the mugs, only a few scattered green plants break up the stark-white interior that’s just as small as spots like Ob-La-Di, but seems a bit more conducive to work as well as people-watching.
Lane Nieset is Paste’s Jet-Set Bohemian columnist and a freelance writer covering all things travel from her home base in Nice, France.