The Paris Coffee Revolution has built upon the café culture of the city to include space for specialty coffee. Characteristically burnt espresso is being replaced by single-origin varieties that have been produced with quality control for each step along the supply chain. Coffee is undeniably improving, and Café Loustic is at the forefront of this rapid evolution. During my month in Paris, I spoke via phone with the shop’s owner, Channa, as he busily placed the final touches on the shop’s second location in Marseille.
Channa, who grew up in the U.K., says he has been drinking decent coffee since his mother gave him his first cappuccino at the formative age of 10. When he first moved to France in 2003, he was disappointed to see that the specialty coffee culture that he had grown fond of in London was non-existent in Paris. Rather, café culture defined coffee of the time. He explained, “The café scene is sitting on a terrace, having a coffee, watching the world go by, having a cigarette. But it’s not about the quality of the product. It’s more about the lifestyle.”
Eventually, when he discovered Caféotheque 5 years after moving to France, he realized that he wasn’t alone in his longings for high-quality coffee. Thus, after enrolling in a barista course and working as a barista at KB Cafeshop, in 2013, Channa opened Café Loustic to satisfy his own coffee needs and those of others in the third arrondissement of Paris.
With its elbow-to-elbow circular tables in its front room and its grand counter for the espresso bar, Loustic captures many elements of the classic French café. Yet the wifi-friendly back room that accommodates laptops during slow hours and the baristas’ expertise in crafting high-quality coffee concoctions set the shop apart from the classic café feel. Channa says that the shop receives an equal mix of French local natives and foreign expats or tourists. Yet what the desires of the French often differ from those of foreign customers. He states of the French, “People come to us because it’s nice, we have nice décor, they like the coffee, but it’s as you know, for the French there’s not a lot of takeaway. That’s not the culture. They come when they actually have time to spend an hour.”
Nonetheless, Channa says that Café Loustic has done quite well in attracting locals when compared with other specialty coffee shops, some of which he estimates to have up to 75% foreign clientele. Specialty coffee as a movement remains on the fringes. Channa explains, “it’s sort of still a got sort of an ethnic restaurant slightly gimmicky sort of feel to it rather than a daily thing where you pass by once or twice a day and have your coffee. It’s very rare to see the same client twice in a day whereas in London for example, I used to go before work and after lunch.”
The idea of takeaway coffee or coffee that is anything but the classically burnt espresso taste runs counterintuitive to local culture, making specialty coffee less easy to take root in France compared to elsewhere in the world. Channa explains, “The big difference between France, Italy and Northern Europe, the Anglo-Saxon world, is that there is already a café culture that has existed since the espresso machine, so it’s about 100 years old. We’re actually running against the tide.”
Yet the uphill battle to create quality coffee is one worth fighting for Channa, in part because of specialty coffee’s impact for positive social change. He explains, “Specialty coffee roasters don’t buy coffee on the stock market. They’re interested in the welfare of farmers and children… Compared to mass market cash crop stock market, a commodity that doesn’t take into account the welfare of farmers.”
This element of social impact is caused by the direct relationships that roasters have with farmers and the oversight that occurs across all facets of the supply chain. Social impact sets specialty coffee apart from conventional coffee, and it enables consumers to explore the uniquely delicious tastes of coffee-growing regions of the world. Channa has high hopes for instilling a taste for specialty coffee as a staple of Parisian taste. By bringing specialty coffee to the masses through bars and bistros, and through recognition of “barista” as a skilled profession at the same caliber of pâtissier and sommelier, Channa says, the “real revolution” of specialty coffee will be possible in France. He states, “I think that France can be the number one country for specialty coffee in the world quite simply because we come from a culture (of sensory appreciation). Quite simply, I hope it becomes appreciated by the wider public because what’s missing is just the education and the information.”
Yet more important to Channa than bombarding customers with information is allowing them to come to their own conclusions by simply enjoying the taste. He says, “I’d like (my customers) to appreciate the expertise and effort that’s gone into it, but quite simply, I just want them to think it tastes good. It’s as simple as that. I was drawn to this quote (by Duke Ellington) about music, and he says, well, if it sounds good, it is good. I take the same message. For a customer, if it tastes good, it is good. That’s what we’re here for, we’re here to improve, add pleasure to people’s daily lives”
Not everyone may want to be a coffee snob, but who wouldn’t want more pleasure in their lives? To add a dose to your day, visit Channa at Loustic next time you visit Paris or Marseille.