It would be a crime to come to Paris and not stop for a coffee (or other drink) in a cafe. Despite the onslaught of American-style coffeeshops, classic cafe life is still an integral part of the Parisian scene, and it simply won’t do to visit the capital without at least participating once. Important note: Cafes are not bars in the North American sense—though they generally serve alcohol, they are not places where people come to get smashed. They are places where people come to just “be,” to sip a drink, to take a break, to read a book, or to simply watch the world go by. Perhaps that’s why the great Existentialist himself, Jean-Paul Sartre, spent so many of his waking hours in cafes. Most cafes open very early in the morning and close between midnight and 2am.
Paris must have thousands of cafes, and a thorough rundown would easily fill a book. Though you could probably have a primal cafe experience in just about any corner operation, here are a few surefire options to choose from.
Ordering a cup of coffee in Paris is not quite as simple as it sounds. Most any cafe has a multitude of delightful caffeinated (and decaffeinated) java possibilities. Cappuccinos, by the way, are rare in Parisian cafes, and when you do get one, chances are it won’t resemble anything you’d get in Italy. Important tip: Drinks at the bar (coffee or otherwise) can cost half what you will pay sitting down at a table—as little as 1€ for an espresso.
The following miniglossary will help you navigate once your waiter makes it over to your table.
Café (ka-fay): Coffee. This is pure, black espresso, albeit lighter than the Italian version, served in a small demitasse cup. The equivalent of a “long shot,” in Starbucks-speak.
Décaf (day-ka): Decaf, or decaffeinated coffee. An unleaded version of the above.
Café serré (ka-fay sehr-ay): Though smaller in volume, packs a bigger punch. Resembles an Italian espresso.
Noisette (nwa-zet): Café with a dash of steamed milk (my favorite).
Café crème (crem): Café with an equal amount of steamed milk, served in a larger cup.
Café au lait (ka-fay oh lay): Virtually identical to the above, sometimes with a bit more milk. The biggest difference is the time of day; in the morning, they call it a café au lait, in the afternoon a crème.