This morning I went to Franprix and bought a little jar of instant coffee–Nescafé Sélection, “arôme corse et intense.” And then I came home and drank a cup of coffee with milk and sugar.
I feel like I’ve just hammered another nail into the coffin of my childhood. But in a good way, like when I cried like a baby for the whole last twenty minutes of Toy Story 3.
It’s not impossible to live in Paris without drinking coffee. I spent my first couple of months here meeting up with people for “a coffee” and ordering tea or orange juice or a pastry instead. (Actually, this is not a France-unique phenomenon for me. I remember spending a very grown-up-feeling day in downtown Tempe, Arizona with some friends during my sophomore year of high school—god, what would my fifteen-year-old self think of me now?!—and being thrilled to find that there was a drink at Starbucks that I liked that looked like coffee. It was a chai tea latte, and it’s still what I order almost every time I go there.)
I think my journey to coffee began with tea. As singers, we always joke about having eighty-four thousand different types of tea in our pantry. It’s beneficial, to be sure. The hot liquid soothes an overworked throat, the steam is good for swollen vocal cords—but heaven forbid we should drink it with milk! Don’t make me laugh. Black black black, or with honey, if anything. And then one evening sometime this past fall, I made a cup of Earl Grey with milk and honey. It was a revelation. All of a sudden, tea became recreational instead of functional. As a rabid Anglophile, I found this very satisfying.
Here I had intended to share with you a video that somebody made ages ago that was a remix of all of the times people drank tea in English films. But I can’t find it, so instead, have some Cranford:
Tea with milk and honey is definitely good for the soul, but in Paris, coffee is cheaper, and better. I know there are people who decry the quality of French coffee, but nothing is as bad as ordering some kind of artisanal tea at a café or brasserie, only to receive a Lipton’s tea bag and a pot of hot water. Coffee is really the better deal. Even at the various Parisian tea shops (of which there are a few really lovely ones, including one a few minutes’ walk from my dorm), coffee is the least expensive item on the menu, and for this tightwad, that is a definite virtue.
But for me, coffee also represents the time it takes to drink it. I’m not very good at leisure. There’s a list of “World’s Happiest Animals” that’s been floating around Facebook lately, and the first picture is a running elephant calf with a great big smile on its face. The caption reads, “Secret to Happiness: Ability to blow water out of its nose; having nowhere in particular to be. Favorite thing: Hurrying anyway.”
That’s me. Having nowhere in particular to be but hurrying anyway. Going to a café and ordering a café crème means half an hour with nothing to do but drink a cup of coffee, and I’m finding that I need that time. Even if I bring my Mozart scores or recital music to memorize, I make sure to focus only on drinking my coffee until it’s gone before I turn to my work.
In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Judi Dench has this marvelous little scene where she goes to try to get a job at a call center, because they’re looking for people who can relate to the elderly. The man she’s talking to says something about “Building Tea,” and she corrects him: “Builder’s Tea.” He says, “Really?” And she replies that the English dunk biscuits into it. “Dunk?” he asks, blankly. She explains, in the most fabulous Judi Dench way, that “to dunk” means to lower a cookie into a cup of tea and calculate exactly how long you have before the cookie falls apart so that you can take it out and eat it. The whole audience laughed at that, because of course, they’re all native tea-drinkers. And I laughed too, because I realized that I have done that time and again with a cup of coffee and a Speculoos cookie. That was when I knew that I was ready to be an official coffee drinker.
I’ve tried to drink coffee for the caffeine, but it just doesn’t seem to work. One day, I went to my favorite cheap-tastic coffee place on Rue des Écoles, next to the Champollion cinema, had a coffee, translated some Mozart, went home and crashed for two hours. So who knows? For now, I’m enjoying the act of simply sitting for a few quiet minutes with a cup of coffee.
My new suffragette tchotchke (bought at an antique market on Boulevard Arago) says, “What took you so long?!”