When I moved to Paris, I assumed anything made to go in a mouth would be sensational. I was wrong. No offence, Paris, but I'm not the first to say that the coffee here is, for the most part, like something that's been scooped from the bottom of a puddle and heated up.
Yet walking around the city you see people at every turn sitting with a café and a cigarette – perhaps they haven't noticed the dirt flavour of the coffee thanks to the taste-diminishing qualities of smoking, or maybe everyone in Paris smokes because they want to make their caffeine fix palatable. I don't know. I didn't ask any Parisians to confirm either theory, because I have been slapped before and it's just the worst.
However, while the overall rubbishness of Paris's coffee has been widely documented, it's definitely experiencing a similar renaissance to London's (though admittedly with fewer blonde dreadlocks and ironic mullets a la Hackney Wick). One of my French-course classmates is a New Zealander who said he had come to Paris to "introduce good coffee to France", as if he was doing charity work. I'm sure that didn't make our teacher want to pelt him with over-roasted coffee beans at all.
I have spent seven months gathering intel on places that do not serve caffeinated tar under the name "café". The list is hardly exhaustive, and I recommend you keep Googling as and when you go to Paris as new places keep popping up. Aside from the Espressamente Illy cafes dotted around the capital, here are just a few independent places you can rely on to serve a decent cup:
A little cafe connected to Bike About Tours, Peloton is a bilingual bubble in the city. Run by friendly Kiwi Paul Barron, you're a regular here by your second visit. The coffee is lovely, the wifi is reliable, and they serve doughnuts on Thursdays and waffles all the time. I've spent so much time in there I'm amazed they haven't charged me rent.
17 Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 4th. Closed Mondays.
Of the three branches of Cuillier in Paris, by far the loveliest is the one in Montmartre by Abbesses metro station. It's a great place to work owing to the plentiful plug sockets and reliable wifi, and the excellent espresso doesn't hurt.
19 Rue Yvonne le Tac, 18th.
This is actually a restaurant, but they serve good Italian coffee made from a rather impressive gleaming copper Elektra.
28 Rue des Écoles, 5th.
While the coffee at Holybelly is wonderful, you really go there to eat. The food is fantastic – I will miss the eggs and sides more than the Eiffel Tower - but at busy times the queue stretches down the street. Turning up at a weekend lunchtime on the off-chance is about as fruitful as trying to get Glastonbury tickets the day before the festival. If it's just coffee you're after, bypass the queue and get it to go then wander down to the Canal Saint Martin, Amelie-style.
19 Rue Lucien Sampaix, 10th. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The Beans On Fire
Serving an espresso to knock your socks off, The Beans On Fire has a nice spot on a quiet, leafy square in the 11th that's perfect for sitting outside and people watching. Started by a pair of enterprising Colombians, this cafe runs coffee classes for professionals ("Vous ne voulez plus servir un café qui ne soit pas à la hauteur de votre carte de restaurant", "you don't want to serve a coffee that's not up to the standard of your menu" – a kind plea to the cafes, restaurants and bistros of Paris to stop resting on the laurels of their damn delicious cuisine and get it together, coffee-wise) as well as open roasting sessions for the coffee-curious.
7 Rue du Général Blaise, 11th.
I spotted this place and assumed the coffee would be good because "Strada" is an Italian word. I was half right – the coffee is great, but when I ordered a macchiato the server said, "Une noisette, très bien..." I'd just arrived so didn't realise noisette is their word for macchiato (I say their word because it's not the same thing; macchiato is the Italian word for "stained", so ordering an espresso macchiato means you want an espresso "stained" with a little bit of milk. A noisette is about half milk and half coffee almost everywhere I've had it). I thought he'd misunderstood so I said, "No, a macchiato" and he fixed me with a stare and said, "Une. Noisette." Oops.
Strada also serves excellent healthy food and has mostly-reliable wifi. Either the sizeable branch in Rue Monge or the tinier, more rustic version in the Marais are good places to stop, work and fuel up.
24 Rue Monge, 5th / 94 Rue du Temple, 3rd.
"Drinking good coffee is sexy", according to the board outside this little hipster AF place just off the Canal Saint Martin. The pinewood store front is littered with colourful stools that can be folded out into makeshift tables. I've never been inside because they weren't crazy about hosting my (adorable and well behaved) puppy, but the mezzanine looks like a nice place to while away an afternoon with a strong, fruity espresso.
10 Rue de la Grange aux Belles, 10th.
Another café that's a bit species-ist, the staff at Coutume made us sit as designated dog tables by the doors, while the branch in the 5th arrondissement banned him altogether. But it's hard to stay mad at them when they serve such damn delicious coffee. The 7th branch was rammed on a weekday, and the branch in the 5th has long tables and benches with so many people banging away on their laptops it looks almost like a classroom.
47 Rue de Babylone, 7th / 60 Rue des Écoles, 5th. 5th branch closed Mondays.
This small, understated cafe recently celebreated its second birthday. Alongside mercifully good coffee they serve enormous sandwiches and some tasty-looking cakes.
58 Rue d'Argout, 2nd.
As I said, Paris is going through a coffee renaissance, and it's fun to follow the trail of drained coffee cups to see who's responsible: Télescope was opened in 2012 by American David Flynn, the same guy who later opened Peloton with Paul Barron. The place was pretty nondescript to look at, but the coffee was so rich and tasty my husband and I chased a cappuccino with an espresso, before spinning like Tasmanian devils back home.
5 Rue Villedo, 1st. Closed Sundays.
Eggs & Co.
This is not a place to go just for coffee, for two reasons: 1) the eggs are amazing; 2) everyone in Paris knows the eggs are amazing and unless the place is uncharacteristically deserted, it's mean to hog a whole table just for coffee. But you should consider getting eggs as a side order for your superbly-foamed cappuccino – which, adorably, they serve with a fried egg Haribo. It doesn't go AT ALL but it's supremely Instagrammable.
11 Rue Bernard Palissy, 6th.
Very much for coffee geeks, this warehouse-like cafe is tucked away in a dodgy area of the 18th. You have to be pretty dedicated to bother with the trek, especially since Cafe Lomi coffee is served in numerous cafes throughout the city. But if you do schlep all the way there, you'll be greeted with a pretty unusual experience: a glass wall provides a peek at some huge coffee grinders and filters, and various types of folk lounge on old leather chairs and at rickety wooden tables, shouting over the din of the grinders. We didn't partake of the cakes but they looked tempting as all hell.
3 ter Rue Marcadet, 18th.
Why do we never turn up to cafes hungry? The food at Blackburn looked gorgeous, all quinoa-with-roasted-squash-and-goats-cheese type fare, and made even our stunning espresso seem like an amuse bouche. The wait staff all seemed to be at least trilingual, slipping from French to English to Portuguese. A great stopover if you're walking from the Marais to Canal Saint Martin.
52 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, 10th.
I rend my garments at how late I discovered La Caféothèque. So close to my French school. So close to my favourite haunts. I missed it by metres for seven months. Whyyyyyyyyyy? You walk into a small shop selling various types of coffee bean which makes the whole place smell ridiculously good. The rest of the cafe is a smattering of different rooms for enjoying a cup – a ristretto du jour costs €2.50 and comes from a different country daily. There are leather armchairs and benches with coffee sacks used as cushion covers. The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful. It may take several minutes for a server to come and take you order, and the wifi takes a little while to load pages – but honestly, what's the rush? Can't we all just sit and enjoy our coffee?
52 Rue de l'Hôtel de ville, 4th.