Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Art of French coffee

L'art et la maniere du cafe a la francaise.

"Un petit cafe, s'il-vous-plait" (A little coffee please) is the sentence the most commonly overheard in the french cafes that dot every town's landscape. The tradition of meeting friends to discuss philosophy and politics at the corner cafe seems as old as France itself. Cafes are filled with teenagers that come and hang out between classes or after the school day. Cafes are the place where all levels of French society come together from the construction worker having a ham and cheese sandwich "au zinc" to the lawyer putting the finishing touches to the arguments for the upcoming court hearing. The "zinc" is one of the nicknames that refer to the counter in a cafe. The counters were originally built out of zinc and by extension, the name was applied to the whole counter. Even if today, most newly built counters would probably be made out of stainless steel, the nickname remains.

Red Espresso Cup by Pennsylvania Terroir
Obviously, the main staple served in a cafe would be coffee but cafes also offer a variety of what the French consider convenience foods: breakfast croissants and assorted vienoiseries, sandwiches, omelettes, salads, quiches, assorted desserts, etc... Food is served at all time of the day so it's not uncommon to see somebody eating a croissant while another patron sitting nearby will be enjoying a rillettes sandwich.

The main attraction still remain coffee. It is offered in a variety of selection and each style goes by a specific name. Here are the main options:
- Un cafe. This would be the traditional espresso style coffee. It is brewed in the industrial size percolateur that sits behind the main counter. It is usually served with a piece of sugar resting on the side and a wrapped piece of dark chocolate.
- Un cafe serre. The same espresso base but with less water brewed through. It is twice as concentrated as the regular cafe.
- Un cafe creme. Regular espresso with a shot of heavy creme.
- Un cafe au lait. Coffee with regular milk added.

In order to reproduce the taste of the French expresso, we have a percolateur or espresso machine. It is a DeLonghi model that can brew either one cup or two cups simultaneously. In this system, hot water is forced through tightly packed fine coffee grounds to brew the espresso almost instantaneously.

We usually run hot water in the cup first, without any coffee in the machine. This allows to clean up the brewer as well as heating up the cup to keep the coffee warm longer.

If brewed right, the coffee will develop a slight layer of caramel colored foam on top the coffee which will be strong and delicious.

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