Café Life

Although the Starbucks Effect is slowly taking hold, coffee choices in a typical French cafe’s are quite limited… if you ask for something like a “double skinny vanilla macchiato” you will just get a blank stare.   

Here’s ‘French Coffee Ordering 101’ so that you can place your coffee order like a local!

  • Un café’ is a strong little espresso, and it’s a good idea to ask for a glass of water on the side (une verre d’eau).  
  • In the South of France, a lot of people order anoisette: an espresso cut with a drop of milk about the size of a hazelnut, hence its name.
  • Café américain’ is an espresso diluted with water, closer to an American-style coffee.  It comes with sugar on the side but no milk.  
  • If you want milk with your coffee, order a 
    ‘Café crème’
    or a Cappuccino.   They will not have skim, so don’t even ask.
  • Add ‘deca’ for decaf.
  • Locals typically order a ‘Café au lait’ in the morning, which contains a high ratio of milk to coffee, and comes in a bowl (great for dunking your croissant!)
  • Locals only order coffee with milk in the morning, after that it is just espressos and noissettes.
  • ‘Thé’ (pronounced ‘Tay’) is regular tea, and herbal teas are un infusion’.
  • Jus d’orange’ or ‘limonade’ will get you a French Tropicana; better to spend the money for une orange pressé’ or ‘une citron pressé’ and enjoy fresh-squeezed.
  • Order ‘Coca Lite’ for a Diet Coke.  Other popular sodas: Orangina and Peach Iced Tea (thé a la peche). 
  • Several cafés in Nice are starting to offer Italian-style hot chocolate, which is not to be missed.  It’s thick, almost pudding like, and with a chocolate that infuses your soul.  Nothing like the chocolate-powder-water that most places serve.  

Visitors from Coffee-centric cities like Seattle or New York might be disappointed in the quality of the coffee in France, but are almost too embarrassed to say it.   Some even say that the best coffee in France is Italian… Here is an article that explains it all: Why is Coffee in France so Bad?

Here is our selection of some of the Best Sidewalk Café’s in the Old Town (including some where you can indeed get a  “double skinny vanilla macchiato”!)

As the afternoon progresses…

  • In the South of France, a glass of cold rosé is de rigueur in the summer, and one of the most affordable things you could order.  If you are a wine lover, here is a page on the best local wine bars.
  • To order a draft beer, ask for une demi’ or ‘une pression’. Regular cocktails (scotch and soda, gin and tonic) are shockingly expensive: you pay twice, once for the pricey shot and then separately for the mixer.
  • It’s a bit of an acquired taste, but you must try the famous Pastis at least once.  It comes with a carafe of water that pour into to the pastis, turning it a milky yellow.  You sip, add more water, sip some more, add more water… before you know it you’re passing the afternoon like a vrai Provençial.
  • Tipping:  just a few coins based on how long you’ve camped out at the table… the tax and tip is already included in the price.

Photo Credits: Espresso by cyclonebillCafe au lait by Jazzbobrown, Pastis by Peng, all licensed under Creative Commons.

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