Whatever happened to Coffee in France


First of all I want to start by saying I love France, I love the culture, her people their attitude to life etc. etc., so when I feel the need to be critical I do so with a heavy heart.

Over the last Easter week-end I spent time in two of my favourite towns, Dinan and Dinard both in northern Brittany. They are tourist magnets and cafes line the streets in both towns. Everything about the environment makes you want to enjoy a freshly made coffee and a just out of the oven croissant but somethings changed and it’s the coffee.

French coffee has always been a bit enigmatic. It has a thicker appearance in the cup compared with that served at home and if you have milk, 9 times out of 10 it will be UHT or long life. This also gives a very distinctive flavour and adds to the charm whether you’re a purist or not. Interestingly it’s the French who will normally drink their coffee black, more long black rather than espresso and it’s us Brits who will usually be adding the milk.

Over the last couple of years following a trip to origin I now rarely put milk in my coffee and because I’m now more aware of my sugar intake I no longer take sugar either. This has actually improved my enjoyment of coffee. The incredible quality that now passes through our roastery means that I can really appreciate those delicious sweet and fruit notes.  

The boat over to France uses instant coffee so I’ll discount any commentary here, however at breakfast the Hotel has a self-service “bean to cup” coffee machine. For the uninitiated that means the coffee is only ground when a coffee is requested. So should be perfectly fresh and have a delicious full flavour. I chose a long black and from the first sip all I got was an earthy rough coffee taste that makes your face crease up in pain and totally ruins your breakfast as you desperately seek out another food item to take the taste away. It also doesn’t sit well on the stomach. The coffee in question was “Café Richard”, a large French brand and found extensively in this part of the world.

And so it went on over the week-end. Lavazza, Segafredo, Café Florio, each coffee as desperate as the next. In the end I refused to pay 3 euros for a rubbish cup of coffee no matter how many free chocolates, sugar, hot milk are given to entice you to buy the product.

It’s such a contrast to the regional beer. Some really interesting tastes and flavours that lift you away from the generic bland global brands and which are proudly announced on most menus. Why is coffee being left behind?

This is what happened to the tea industry in the UK many years ago. It got murdered by the big brands who thought that price mattered more than quality. After a while the consumer woke up and worked out that they no longer enjoyed their cuppa and so switched to the new kid on the block, coffee and the rest is history.

Please my French cousins don’t let your café culture become beholden to these large generic brands no matter how much free stuff they throw at you. You’ll only see your sales decline and all that free stuff will simply gather dust and this proud industry could become just a faded memory.