Do you have a coffee maker?
Once, when I hosted my own mother for dinner back in the US, she brought her coffee maker and coffee with her for her after dinner coffee. Such I am not a coffee drinker…
Eventually, I snagged a used coffee machine for free from work and kept fancy coffee in the freezer for guests.
Recently, when my (French) mother-in-law came to visit us in Paris, she brought her own coffee and admitted to being concerned when she couldn’t find the coffee maker. Clearly my mother and my mother-in-law are two peas in a pod!
Oui, la cafetière est dans le placard
“Yes, the coffee maker is in the closet.” Since my husband and I don’t drink coffee we had opened up some counter space by moving the drip coffee maker to the closet.
We had milk and sugar, and during a previous visit my mother-in-law had prepared us with filters so I naively assumed we had everything we needed…
It was the first time I hosted my in-laws and thus far the whole meal had gone relatively well. As is typical in France, I provided a cocktail hour with munchies followed by four courses: appetizer, main dish, cheese plate, and dessert.
We had finally arrived at the tea and coffee part of the meal, and I was glad everything had gone so smoothly. I was looking forward to finally relaxing after the stress of putting the meal together.
After requesting assistance from my brother-in-law with the dosage, the coffee brewed and I brought over the pot to pour it into two coffee mugs I had placed on the table.
When I brought the coffee pot to the table, the smell was so pungent I was sure the coffee was too strong, but when my brother-in-law tasted it he assured me that it tasted just fine.
The flavor was ok! I sighed with relief, and continued pouring the coffee.
“Oh, on ne serve pas le café comme ça en France.”
Someone quietly said what everyone else was thinking: “Huh… We don’t serve coffee like that in France.” There wasn’t anything mean in this statement at all. Something about the coffee was so different from their expectations, the comment came out of utter surprise.
I looked at the coffee mugs and back at the coffee pot, and had a moment of complete confusion. This looked about right to me…
I wracked my brain for images of French people drinking coffee at cafés.
And then it hit me: the French are known for their strong coffee served in little espresso cups.
I had given them the equivalent of a triple espresso, and then served it in a mug reserved for tea and hot chocolate.
Strikes one and two all at once!
Un café long
In a generous attempt to help a girl out, my brother-in-law jumped in with a comment about his recent stay in the US. “That’s right,” he said nonchalantly. “In the US they serve coffee in mugs like this.” My sister-in-law joined in, “Ah oui, c’est vrai. Ils les boivent long.” This roughly translates to: “Oh, that’s right. They drink their coffee watered down, and therefore twice the size of a “regular” French cup.” This is what Americans simply call, “coffee.”
I was grateful for these simple statements that helped my in-laws understand my bizarre behavior. However, I prefer to think of the whole thing as a language misunderstanding: café does not actually mean “coffee” like our textbooks say!! It obviously means “double espresso.” That’s what my guests had expected! So, Americans who want a typical American coffee should not ask for un café, they should ask for un café long or un café alongé! Oh the confusion!!
Fortunately, both of the coffee drinkers at the table graciously accepted my triple serving and odd cup choice with smiles.
In my mind, though, I immediately started a shopping list, starting with mini coffee cups.
Do you take it black?
Since my arrival in France last summer I’ve been on the lookout for a creamer and a sugar bowl, but I hadn’t found the perfect pair yet, and wasn’t in much of a hurry to select them either. During this meal, I offered milk and sugar knowing I would have to serve it in a very informal way.
Sugar, please. Ok, to the cupboard for the sugar.
The look my father-in-law gave me when I placed the box of cooking sugar in front of him was priceless… He hesitated when he saw the box, looked at his mug, up at me, then back to the box. He was quite perplexed.
I was as confused as he was. It’s not as pretty as a sugar bowl, but that couldn’t be why he’s surprised. Again, I started imagining coffee drinkers at French cafés to figure out what I’d done wrong.
“Oh!” I thought, “Cubes! He wants sugar cubes!”
All those hours at cafés, had I not learned anything?! Coffee is always served with sugar cubes here. In every homegoods store here they sell colorful tins to store sugar cubes in. I apologized for the mix up, and he poured a large helping of sugar into his mug with a bemused grin. I’m sure he had never been served sugar like that before! LOL
He’ll need a spoon…
Back to my silverware tray and I discovered I had no more of the small dessert spoons that my husband likes, so I gave him my normal cereal spoon.
“Oh, comme elle est grande, cette cuillère!” (Oh, this is such a big spoon!) Again, a slight shrug, bemused smile, and he started stirring his sweetened coffee. This was a coffee experience like none he had ever had before! Oh my!
However, I was super confused. What size was he expecting?! To me, there are three sizes: “small” for cereal, dessert and tea, “medium” for soup, and “large” for serving food.
My (French) husband, when he first saw my silverware set, asked me where the small spoons were. I pointed to the “small” ones I used, and his eyes got big. To him, that was large enough for soup! He insisted on using a separate set of little teaspoons for his tea, cereal and dessert.
I’ve since learned that there is an even SMALLER spoon – called an espresso spoon – that looks like it should be used for a child’s play tea set. This is what I should have given my father-in-law…
So, I had essentially given my father-in-law a soup spoon for his coffee! LOL
How to serve coffee to a French person
This experience with my in-laws was simply too embarrassing for me to endure again. I aim to be an excellent host, and I must be prepared for the next time! The next day, I immediately set about finding the appropriate tools for serving coffee at home to any French guests I might have.
Here is what I found. It’s not the traditional “look,” but all of the elements have gotten the French nod of approval. And I assure you, the sizes are completely satisfactory!
Espresso size cups: these tiny double wall glass cups are the perfect size, and I found them for 2€50 each at HEMA, a European low-cost modern-design household goods store. They hold about 3.5 fluid ounces (10 cl), and are not hot to the touch, which I like.
I’ve been warned that some guests may say the flavor isn’t the same as when the coffee is served in a porcelain teacup. Sigh. I guess you can’t please everyone!
My glass cups didn’t come with saucers to catch drips and to set the spoon down on, so I bought a set of four mini metal saucers at HEMA for 1€.
Creamer and sugar bowl – with sugar cubes: I found items at my favorite cooking store in Paris, a.simon. I’m a huge fan of professional kitchen stores and I’ve explored at least a dozen of them since I arrived.
I can’t tell you where to eat in Paris, but I can tell you where to buy a nice cheese knife and a good rolling pin! Haha!
a.simon (north of the métro stop les Halles) has two shops right next to each other, and after walking every inch of both stores, I found some great buys (including a lovely cheese knife!).
The creamer has elegant curves and it was only 6€60. They had other sizes in the same shape. Very few French people put milk or cream in their coffee, but I know I will likely have American guests, so I’d like to be prepared just in case. Plus, it’s so cute!
Sugar for coffee or tea is served as cubes, or morceaux as we say in French. The little glass jar I found to put my sugar cubes in is made by Weck, and comes in a variety of shapes. I liked the curves of this one, called a tulip jar, and it was only 2€20!
Spoons: My oh my, spoon sizes are a real thing here! For my coffee drinking guests, I found little tiny espresso spoons at a.simon that match my current set of silverware! Quel chance! (What luck!) The spoons are 1€10 each.
Serving Tray: The local grocery store (Monoprix) had a baby blue non-slip tray that is perfect for my new coffee serving set. I can use it with tea or coffee, and it looks cute, too! It was 9€90, which was a little pricey, but I like it so much, I know I’ll love it forever.
Coffee maker: The one we use now belongs to the owner of the apartment, and is a very bulky traditional drip machine. When we move to a small studio in Paris, we’ll need our own coffee maker for when guests visit. Since we are both tea drinkers, we won’t invest in the pricey espresso makers that everyone seems to have in France. Also, I want to save space, so we won’t get a drip machine either. Some French people swear by the French press, which is a perfect size, but I’m afraid of ruining the coffee by accidentally getting grounds into the coffee when I push the filter down. I’m hoping to get a secondhand Bialetti Venus Espresso Coffee Maker that you set on the stove. It will be easy to use, easy to clean, and look adorable on a shelf collecting dust! 😉 I’ve already seen a few on the French version of Craigslist (leboncoin.fr), so I’m crossing my fingers I can pick one up from there!
How do you take your coffee? 😉
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