Thursday, 3 July 2008

Petit Déjeuner

The Coffee Concierge thought that it would be nice to end off the "French cafe" series with a little photo of breakfast in "La Banesterie", her residence in Avignon.
This small bed & breakfast is a charming old house on Rue la Banesterie in the old city centre. The Coffee Concierge was enchanted by their breakfast - fresh breads and French pastries, a good selection of cheeses and jams, a serving of fruit and another of yoghurt, and last but not least - coffee served in these beautiful old coffee pots. Each day, a different one appeared on our table. It felt extremely civilised. And everything tasted extremely good too!

In Singapore, Italian coffee terms seemed to have crept into our coffee vocabulary. We talk of expressos, capuccinos and lattes. So we tend to forget that the French, too, have many different ways of drinking coffee - cafe noisette, cafe au lait, cafe crema or just plain black cafe. I've explained some of these terms in these series of posts. But if you would like to know more about these ways of drinking coffee (or if you would like a far fuller coffee glossary), here's a website with a long list of coffee terms.
For now,
Au revoir!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

A charming little noisette

The Coffee Concierge was in Arles, in a cafe which was formerly the residence (briefly) of Vincent van Gogh. It had a vaulted ceiling and a sunny courtyard (which was undergoing some renovation) - it was a pleasurable experience sitting first in the courtyard and then in the cafe building itself. The renovation work started up after the workmen had their lunch and it was a little too noisy to chat.

After lunch (a forgettable pasta dish) the Coffee Concierge decided that a little cafe was necessary to help the forgetting process. I ordered a cafe noisette, and was delighted to get a little shot glass of expresso with a dollop of cream on top. "Noisette" means "hazelnut" in French, apparently this is called Cafe Noisette because the addition of the cream turns the dark coffee to the colour of hazelnuts.

The cafe noisette was indeed the good stuff - rich, strong, coffee, with the cream just adding that extra smoothness to the taste. So if you encounter the words "cafe noisette" in that French menu, give it a go.

Service-wise, the restaurant was perfectly adequate but nothing memorable. I can't remember how much the cafe noisette cost either, which probably means it was pretty reasonable.
Service: 3.5 beans
Flavour: 4.5 beans

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Torrefacto Roasts, Part Deux

The Coffee Concierge was strolling the streets of Paris and came across Lapeyronie, a torrefacteur roaster shop near the Centre Geogres Pompidou. Now clearly, this was an opportunity to further explore the issue of torrefacto roasts first raised in an earlier post. Of course there were some issues, like the Coffee Concierge's limited French vocabulary. Fortunately, upon coming back to Singapore I managed to find this post which talks about the coffee and tea scene in Paris in quite some detail, and includes a fairly lengthy write-up on Lapeyronie.

This little shop has a wide range of coffees, bringing in beans from Indonesia, Costa Rica and so on. The green beans are roasted on site in the roaster and then make their way across the shop floor to the counter where they are bagged and sold. The shop has also a little cafe, so the Coffee Concierge took the opportunity to have a cuppa.

The majority of the shop's customers are in the take-away trade so it was really a self-service cafe. The coffee was the daily blend but it was not really a memorable cup - pleasant enough, slightly bitter, but I thought I would have preferred a stronger flavour. The crema dissipated fairly rapidly as well. Maybe it is a question of preferences, as the owner of the shop, Bruno Saguez, notes:

"I believe taste in coffee is a personal matter," says Saguez. "The roaster's art is to coax the different tastes from the green coffees and from the blends. When this is done well, in carefully established shades from light to dark, the consumer has a universe of taste to explore."

The Coffee Concierge has slight regrets about not buying a pack of coffee beans to explore the flavours more. But at the time we were only half-way through our visit to France and I was more concerned about the issue of lugging my bags down four narrow flights of stairs.

Lapeyronie, 3 rue Brantome, 75003 Paris. Tel: (33)(1) 40 27 97 57.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Cafe au Lait, s'il vous plait

The Coffee Concierge found her way to L'Opus Cafe (Bistrot and Restaurant) near Marché Jules Vallès in the flea market area of St Ouen. That would be the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen near the Port de Clingancourt metro station.
The flea markets are only open over the weekend and typically start up around 10am. Except, that the website we checked said 9am and "get there early". So we were somewhat early getting to the flea market and thought it would be nice to have a warm cup of coffee whilst we waited.
So here is a cup - not of cappucino, but of café au lait or coffee with milk. Half coffee, half milk, this is what the French typically drink at breakfast. However, you can get it through the day. There is no strong coffee flavour (obviously) and there is clearly more milk than in a typical cappucino. It's the sort of thing you could really dump your croissant in on a cold winter morning.
The service was friendly - even though our waitress couldn't speak much English. So if you are tired from walking around the many different markets in the area, do pop in and put your feet up for a while here.
Price: Approx 2.50 Euros (I think)
Service: 3.5
Flavour: 3.5 (for coffee buffs) but 4 if you really like milky coffee.

URA Centre Pacific Cafe

The Coffee Concierge was at the URA Centre looking at the Masterplan exhibition which was up for public feedback before it gets gazetted at the end of the year. For anyone interested in Singapore's living conditions in the future, the exhibition is well worth seeing and is only open for a month.

There is a cafe called Pacific Cafe in the URA building on the side facing Maxwell Road Food Centre. It has the usual range of coffee drinks and a Boncafe Expresso machine behind the counter. The Coffee Concierge ordered the usual expresso to see what it would turn out like.

The expresso had giant bubbles of foamy crema most probably from a fully automated machine as he doesn't remember the milk being foamed at the milk wand separately and the expresso appeared in double quick time. Faster than a manual process. The crema with its giant bubbles persisted for quite a while and was the customary golden brown shade. It did not have much of an aroma or aftertaste but the taste itself was pleasant enough but not wonderful. As the Coffee Concierge was with several other people at the time, a group poll was taken and the various comments were that it was "mediocre", "smoky", "slightly bitter", " I like this", "light" (this referring to the mouth feel). All in all, a fairly average, not unpleasant cup without a sour flavour.

Needless to say the group drifted afterwards to the Maxwell Food Centre for a much fuller, more robust round of flavours from the local hawkers.

Price: S$1.90
Flavour: 3 beans
Service: 3 beans

Friday, 13 June 2008

Dome Cafe - Singapore Art Museum

The Coffee Concierge was passing by the Singapore Art Museum the other day and decided to drop into the Dome there. That's always been one of the coffee concierge's favourite cafes in Singapore because of its location in the grounds of the old Saint Joseph's Institution, now the Singapore Art Museum. It has that old colonial feeling about it still and Dome has done a decent job of using the space it has on the ground floor with both al fresco areas as well as an indoor area. The only thing is that if you eat inside, your clothes will end up smelling a little like you've been in a hawker's centre after leaving.

Despite the pleasant ambience, the expresso ordered was not great nor was the brownie. The expresso was mainly sour at first sip. It became a little less sour and more pleasantly bitter at second sip and some swirling. On the whole it did not have a particularly strong flavour or aroma and had a minimal aftertaste. The service was polite and prompt. The brownie tasted like it had been made from instant mix bought from the supermarket.

Price: S$ can't quite remember but should be in the S$4 region
Flavour: 1.5 beans

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

French Press

The Coffee Concierge was in Amboise the other day. (The lengths we go to tell you where to find a good cup of coffee.) Where is Amboise, you might ask? Amboise is a small town in the Loire Valley in France, and its main claim to fame is the ancient chateau or castle which sits on top of the hill in the middle of the town. So the Coffee Concierge sat in the Patisserie Bigot, a Salon du Thé with a great view of the chateau, and a name which really won't travel well.
The Coffee Concierge ordered up a café to round off her lunch of ham, quiche and two scoops of homemade ice cream which comprised dessert.
I was pleasantly surprised when, voila! the coffee came in a French Press. In fact, despite the name, this was the only time when my coffee came in a press in France. For the ins and outs on how to use a press pot, do read this post by Coffeegeek. I can only say that I thoroughly endorse the use of the press pot in giving a good strong rich cup of coffee, because the ground coffee gets to steep a little longer in the water.

Actually, I recall my parents steeping their local coffee in one of those enamal teapots for a few minutes on the stove before straining it into their coffee cups. So maybe they didn't have the fancy equipment but hey, they enjoyed their morning coffee.

In terms of price, this was only about 2.50 Euros or so. The service was good and smooth despite the fairly large crowd. The food was also tasty and the ice cream was accompanied by a meringue. I'd happily go back to the Patisserie Bigot, unfortunate name not withstanding.

Price: 2.50 Euro
Service: 3.5 beans
Flavour: 4 beans