It’s 8:46 a.m. as I sit down for breakfast and take a sip of my coffee. I cringe. It’s my first day back home, and I already feel like a snob. American coffee is terrible.
When I moved to France for a year, I expected culture shock and other unusual societal norms. What I didn’t expect was to be shaped by something as small– literally and figuratively– as their coffee. I’ve been a coffee enthusiast for quite some time now, and I thought going to Europe would simply help me appreciate the art of coffee even more. Little did I know, it would reveal much to me about society as a whole.
The culture surrounding coffee in France is much different from here in the United States. Much of American coffee culture consists of waiting in line for 20 minutes only to run out the door with our venti mocha frappuccino or vanilla non-fat soy latte or whatever other various sugary concoction it may be. When we do have time to sit down for coffee, it’s usually only for a 30 minute job interview or an easy first date with a potential partner. Unless, of course, you are invested in the hipster side of coffee. That subculture, if you will, contains multiple forms of coffee-making that often seem a bit redundant (I mean… do we really need a drip coffee, pour-over, and cold brew of the day?).
France is a completely different scene. You are strolling dans la rue when you stumble upon a tiny corner café. Little striped chairs and small circle tables are staggered along the awning, piquing your curiosity. A waiter comes outside to offer you a menu. You sit down. Upon ordering un café, a tiny espresso with an equally tiny spoon appears in front of you. You proceed to sip it for the next hour or two while divulging into political or philosophical conversation–and maybe snacking on a croissant– with your fellow French citizens.
Though this may be a bit exaggerated, the point remains. For the French, it’s extremely important to set aside this time. Coffee isn’t just a drink to keep you awake throughout the monotony of your day. It’s a form of true connection; it allows you to have time for the important people in your life. The practice of afternoon coffee is essential for maintaining the sanity one has in the midst of a busy schedule. Unlike the American guzzling their 32 oz. coffee while running late to work, the small and bitter espressos of the French clean the palate and energize the person for the remainder of the day.
Now that I’m back home, I realize that American coffee culture is definitely improving. (But we could definitely still learn a thing or two from the French.)
P.S. For your entertainment here are some photos of me consuming way too many espressos in France.