Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Soluna Cafes

A cup of Guatemala and the FB-80.

After dilly-dallying all morning and most of the afternoon, I finally set off in search of Parisian Adventure around 4pm. One of the problems of being in the coffee business is that you can no longer drink just any old swill. I never liked coffee before I got into the business, so I learned coffee by drinking some of the best that the world has to offer. As such, I don't have an addiction to the stuff and only want to press my lips to the finest the world has to offer (and not just with coffee).

At the recommendation of some friends, I made my way across this big city to a little, tiny shop called Soluna Cafes, a stone's throw away from the river Seine. Ah, Paris!

At first glance, the front of the place shockingly reminds me of the Stumptown Annex in Portland, Oregon. There's a wall of coffees to the left, a center island counter and what looks to be a two kilo roaster made by Samiac on the right wall. The Samiac is interesting because there's no exhaust flue. The exhaust runs out of the roaster, into a large stainless box beneath it and then up to a stainless filter box - and that's it. No venting to the outside of the building - just fully self-contained. Impressive and I need to see it work.

Pass through the front room and into the back where the coffee-making magic happens. They've got a Rancilio espresso grinder and a new La Marzocco FB-80 espresso machine. For the espresso enthusiasts of the group, this usually means good news.

There's only one barista working the entire shop this afternoon. Victor, a Mexico City-born Chilean who's lived in Paris for seven years studying and making films has been a barista here for three months. He's enthusiastic, good-natured and energetically bouncing around serving me drinks, serving other people drinks, hosting a coffee tasting class and bagging whole bean coffees for more customers in the front room.

As I arrive, he's making fresh hibiscus tea and offers me a glass. It's cooled down a bit but the strong acidic character is there, although the rose (as in roh-zay) color is dramatically different than the blood red color I'm used to from Mexican hibiscus. Victor wants to know if I speak Spanish since it's his native tongue and it's easier than English. Unfortunately, I'm just another ignorant American in disguise and cannot accommodate his request.

Victor (on the right), holding a private coffee sensory class.

Evidently, the only brewing method here is espresso and they have a unique style that's very different than what I'm used to. He offers to let me behind the bar and pull shots but it's not my house and I hate doing things like that, so I decline. The coffee comes out fast and runs way into the blonde. The coffee (a Guatemala) is somewhat pleasant with some strong bitter notes. A later pull of India Monsoon Malabar is also on the harsh side.

Tastings like these make me wonder if perhaps this relatively new barista just hasn't completed the training, or if this is representative of their style. Still, it's the most promising coffee in Paris, everyone is friendly and enthusiastic - which counts for a tremendous amount in my book.

It's fun hanging out in a coffee shop that takes interest in pride in what they do. They source, roast and brew their own beans. They hold private coffee seminars for consumers - gosh, that's a great thing. Meanwhile, Victor is working with a couple who have come in as part of a tasting program that takes them to various boutiques across the city tasting and smelling a wide variety of specialties to develop their palate. He's got the Le Nez du Cafe aromatic kit out and then he's having them smell and identify the coffees and taste them as well.

When he's not doing that, he's talking to other customers about the different coffees they offer this week. How they're best prepared and what characteristics they should expect. He bags them up and they're out the door.

I think I've found a place to hang out this week.

Soluna Cafes
52, rue de l'Hotel de Ville
75004 Paris
33(1) 53 01 83 84

1 comment:

Troy said...

Jay, I've been to Europe several times and outside of Italy, that is generally what they call coffee (Great Britain excluded). I long bitter pull, but I always find the cafe culture is worth the bitter brew.