Opened in 2011 by Australian Tom Clarke and his French partner Antoine Netien, Cafe Coutume has become a well-established fixture on the Parisian coffee scene.
One would think that Paris, with its long traditions of local wine and cheese production, all based on highly nuanced subtleties of flavor and texture, would be first in line to embrace a new understanding of coffee along the same lines. Perhaps the attention lavished on these local products has much to do with their direct connection to French soil, so coffee, not being a product of the French terroir, is not favored by a similar obsession.
In any case, while cafes are a mainstay of Parisian culture, the chief offering of these wonderful establishments has often been, shall we say, a little bitter. The French like their coffee well done. Or as some would say “burnt” and this has become the de-facto standard for the country. And that is not easy to change. I found a similar situation in Vienna and Italy where the classic coffee houses tend to serve very bitter traditional roasts, rejecting the products of younger roasting companies in favor of the status quo.
It has taken some time, and an enormous effort by people like Tom, to start grinding down the resistance of Parisians to new kinds of coffee roasts and techniques. Now a small but dedicated community of coffee aficionados is taking hold. The realization is sinking in that coffee is like wine in its subtleties, reflecting the conditions and regions in which the coffee bean is grown, and in the way flavors can be manipulated in the preparation process to bring out the best from this delicious little green bean.
The day we visited Tom to chat about coffee, Coutume was buzzing with locals, with a few foreigners mixed in. Tom tells us that when he came from Australia to study in Paris he really longed for the vibrant fresh coffee culture he was fond of back home. Coffee culture came to Australia early, brought by Italian immigrants. And somehow the combination of the Australian give-it-a-go attitude with the traditions and techniques of Italy kicked off a dynamic and innovative coffee culture that is gradually spreading around the world.