Parisian Living

My First Coffee in Paris

by Erica Berman

Photo Alain Ollier

Text Erica Berman & Alison Goudreault

Over 16 years ago comfortably ensconced in a Left Bank cafe I attempted to order my first Parisian cup of coffee. As the waiter brusquely arrived and impatiently blurted out ‘je vous ecoute’, I realized there was a lot I did not know about ordering coffee (café) in Paris. Despite my 7 week French immersion course at Middlebury College, I had not the slightest clue as to what he was saying. With a disgruntled sigh he was off in a huff, and I was clueless with no coffee. – Erica


Although a grande mocha latte with a shot of caramel sounds pretty exotic, when in Paris there are a few things to note when you order your coffee.

If you want your coffee black, it’s a “cafe noir” but keep in mind it is the richer espresso version. If you want the milder version it’s a cafe Americano. With cream, it’s a “cafe au lait”. A Cappucino is a “cafe creme” although don’t expect as much foam on the cap as you may be used to. Yes Decaf is also possible but forget about asking for a half /caf soy or… (gasp)… skim.

If you order your coffee standing up at the bar it will be cheaper than if you are getting table service.

A tip of 20 cents max would be appreciated but not required.

Parisians NEVER have coffee with their desert, it will be served only after you have had your last spoonful of creme brulée.

This list should help you make that first order, and get what you want, without offending your waiter’s delicate sense of French politesse.

Je vous ecoute – I’m listening

Café noir/ Cafe express / un petit noir – small bitter black coffee

Café serré – extra strong

Café allongé – diluted with hot water

Café double/ double express / un grand noir – double Café noir

Café Americano –  A really diluted Café noir (the French do not look positively on those who order this).

Café Creme – Café noir with steamed milk and foam

Café au Lait – Café noir with a lot of milk and no foam

Une noisette – an express with a tiny amount of milk

Deca / Café decafféiné – Decaffinated coffee

Café en poudre ou soluble – instant coffee

Café moulu – ground coffee

Café glacé – iced coffee (this is not something you generally find in France, nor are they particularly amenable to making it even if they could).


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Written By

Erica Berman

Erica Berman grew up in Lexington, Mass. After graduating from Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Journalism and an intensive summer at Middlebury College (Vermont), Erica went to Paris with hopes of submerging herself in French culture and perfecting her French -- and she stayed 20 years. Erica is the founder of the HiP Paris Blog and Haven In her former company. She now splits her time between Paris (Montmartre) and Maine (Midcoast). She recently started a non-profit growing organic produce for the food insecure in Maine called Veggies to Table. In her all-too-rare free time, Erica likes to travel off the beaten track, explore Paris and Maine, read, take photos, cook, kayak, hike and enjoy long Sunday brunches with her friends. View Erica Berman's Website

2 comments on “My First Coffee in Paris

What do you mean I can’t have a half caf double shot of skim mocha with sprinkles? How will I survive?!

An excellent link to more info on coffee:
Enjoy! Erica

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