An American(o) in Paris: Consuming Coffee in Europe
Touching down in the Gatwick airport after a long flight from Seattle, I knew one of the first things I’d need to do would be to caffeinate for a full (and completely unrested) day ahead. I also knew not necessarily to expect anything resembling my typical morning one-cup filtered coffee there, nor in my later destinations of Paris and Dublin. I’m no stranger to the Americano, and had no qualms about ordering one while exiting the terminal. But there was a second during my order when I thought — is an Americano a dead giveaway of the country I just flew in from — AMERICA? How do people “do” coffee in the places I'm visiting? How will I caffeinate properly (especially critical during periods of jet lag!)?
My caffeine consumption over this trip was not particularly well-mapped ahead of time (I didn’t seek out the "best places" before we went — I drank what was around or nearby when we happened upon something good in the neighborhood). But I can say that I successfully caffeinated and kept warm no matter where I went.
Here is a full map of every beverage I drank along the way, what was good...and what was decidedly not. Takeaways: (1) Don’t order coffee on an Aer Lingus flight, but Eurostar is fine; (2) ALWAYS OPT FOR THE HOT CHOCOLATE; (3) Nespresso espresso is better than I gave it credit for originally (definitely better than some London chain coffees).
My overall experience, combined with some light research on my return, taught me some interesting things about coffee in the places I visited. One question I was curious to answer when I got back was, "how much coffee do each of these countries (France, UK, Ireland) consume compared to the U.S? France, it seems, is the nearest of the three to the U.S., but the answer is slightly more complicated than that.
In a 2014 Atlantic article that compared the top 100 coffee-drinking countries, the United States ranked #16, a bit lower than I had expected (that's .93 cups a day according to the data they pulled from Euromonitor). In the #1 spot went to The Netherlands, with 2.4 cups per person each day, and Nigeria was last at .002 cups (but that may be changing). This “cup” measurement, however, is a bit problematic because it is likely not representative of how each of those countries consumes coffee.
If you’re grabbing a drip coffee at a Starbucks in the U.S. for example, that would be 12oz of coffee in a cup serving (for a tall). If you’re drinking a “café” in France, it’s going to be more like a 2 oz. espresso with less water content, but similar caffeine content (more on that below). And I’m not entirely sure what size the Dutch are using for their (epic) coffee consumption. Below you'll find my visual of this data that might be slightly more representative of these differences.
And when it comes to caffeine content…this can vary wildly. I would say the espresso-style drinks I had in the mornings were likely slightly less caffeinated than my usual cup (though I didn't notice a huge difference!): 8oz. ounces of drip coffee has 65–165mg of caffeine (I usually drink about 10oz), and a double-shot of espresso has 94–128mg.
Hot chocolate, in case you were wondering, has only about 5mg or so (probably good for me, since my hot chocolate drinking trended towards end of the day), though this too may vary when factoring in differences in the style of hot chocolate, i.e. rich, chocolate-heavy European Drinking chocolate (YUM) versus waterier cocoa-based America hot chocolate.
Ordering coffee in both Dublin and London was pretty familiar to me, but France definitely has a different culture and (literally) language around coffee consumption. "Café,” in Paris as most might know is going to get you an espresso, not drip-style coffee. When I was there, at a cute café-restaurant called Coutume Café (which in fact did offer what I believe was American-style drip, café filtré), I was feeling experimental, and ordered a mystery drink…the café noir. The thick, dark beverage was served in a small coffee cup and was probably some sort of long-pull espresso, or café allongé. It was, coincidentally, my favorite coffee of the trip.
From further "back-in-the-States" research (note, not from live observation or from talking with locals, so take this with a grain of salt…or sugar, or cream — however you take it) the below beverages are some other typical French versions of “café.” Supposedly café au laits and other milky coffee beverages are usually drunk in the morning with breakfast, and then it's all about espresso later in the day.
In every city I visited, I was confident that I would have been able to find a good artisanal drip coffee somewhere, which was nice (3fe in Dublin and Coutume Café certainly offered it). But I enjoyed mixing up my routine a little, observing coffee culture in other countries, and indulging in some phenomenal hot chocolate.
In case you end up visiting the same cities, below are the standout cafés and drinks from my trip — highly recommended if you're in the area!
Small café / restaurant in the 7th that had a Brooklyn vibe — both in decor and its devotion to all things coffee and coffee culture.
What to order: café noir + a tartine
Tea house (founded in 1903) on the Rue de Rivoli in the 1st with a patisserie counter (with exceptional pastries) — you have to try their thick, European-style drinking chocolate.
What to order: the hot chocolate + a pastry (I had the Venus)
Coffee house on Grand Canal Street, founded by coffee geek (and World Barista Championship 4th-place finisher) Colin Harmon.
What to order: cappuccino...(or drip coffee) + the mini Irish soda bread
Tiny artisinal doughnut shop on Picadilly Street in Central London.
What to order: Hot chocolate + a doughnut