Mugshot: Australians rescue France from terrible coffee

Australians are lifting the standard of France's coffee.
Australians are lifting the standard of France's coffee. 

Cafe creme, the morning milk coffee in Paris, can work like this. The barista leaves a very large cup - about 300ml - under the portafilter while the coffee extracts. The shot is two flicks, pre-ground (no whirring of burrs), quickly tamped.

The milk sits steaming under the steam wand, also unattended, while the barista washes something or other in the sink. After a minute or two he returns to add the milk to the coffee, using a spoon to scoop a large dollop of not-so-micro foam into the cup. The result is an asymmetrical frothy pile atop a hot, weak brew that tastes as much of UHT milk as it does of coffee. The price for this is €3 - standing at the bar.

Typical? Surely not …

Unfortunately, yes, says Stella Rice, who, with sister Anna and friend Rain Laurent, owns and runs Tuck Shop in Paris' groovy 10th arrondissement, not far from the Canal Saint-Martin.

"They use UHT milk because it's easier to store, no one cleans their machines, and they use terrible coffee," adds Rice, who says she was surprised how bad the coffee was when she arrived in Paris seven years ago.

Stella and Anna hail from Brisbane, Rain Laurent from Sydney. They cooked up the idea for Tuck Shop in late 2012 almost by accident - one day they were joking about opening a cafe, Rice says, and the next day it was there, showing Paris how to make a flat white.

Things have changed quickly in the French capital, Rice says, ticking off a list of specialty cafes, including Le Coutume (part-owned by an Australian, Tom Clarke; they supply the beans for the short blacks, long blacks - allongé´ - and flat whites at Tuck Shop), Le Bal, and Holybelly, a few doors down on Rue Lucien Sampaix (whose owners, Nico Alary and Sarah Mouchot, lived in Melbourne for three years, working at Market Lane and Duchess of Spotswood respectively).

If the name doesn't give Tuck Shop's Aussie roots away, the menu will - the blackboard offers "brekky" (cheekily translated as "petit dej") of "toast avec Vegemite" - which Parisians in the know frequently order, says Rice - and "toast avec avocat et citron", aka smashed avo.

Tuck Shop draws loads of Australians, of course - "people who live here and come in every day", says Rice. "And lots of French travellers who say, 'I've just come back from Sydney and I'm really missing the cafes'."

And the flat whites? Delicious, creamy - and made with fresh, not UHT, milk.