European cafes versus American

Var

New member
Jun 6, 2008
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Hi folks,

I''m curious to learn what specific things you think European cafes that you have been to have done right or wrong, and what cafes in the USA you''ve been to have done right or wrong. It occurs to me that the only chance for improvement in the USA is for a free exchange of ideas on this matter,
if American cafe/coffeehouse owners are reading this anyway.

A few ideas:

* It is good to offer a free small biscotto with each coffee as you see in European cafes, because it is a \"little thing that goes a long way\".

* It is good to put mirrors on the walls as you see in European-style cafes, because it adds more sense of space; it also acknowledges the reality that humans go to cafes in part for people-watching.

* It is very bad to seriously demand $6 for a not too large sandwich, because this activates the miserly instinct of customers and creates a hidden conflict between consumers and the business. You see this at Barnes and Noble''s cafe.

Thanks.
 
Jan 18, 2008
704
1
MASS.
Hi Var, welcome to Coffeeforums.

This is an interesting point you bring up. At first, I thought, what's wrong with the cool cafes we have here in the states? Then, I realized, of course the Europeans are doing it better.

It would be wise for anyone in the states who wishes to start a cafe here, to go there first and take some notes on the layouts, the seating arrangements, the decor and the overall atmosphere of European cafes. I would guess that France, Italy and Spain would be great places to research some ideas.

European countries are well known for their exquisite cuisine, fine wines and of course, the best espressos (in the world perhaps?). Not to put us down, but to say that we could certainly take a lesson from places where coffee & cafes are an important part of their culture. Hey we try.... :D
 

ElPugDiablo

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Jul 16, 2004
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Hartford and New Haven, CT
caffe biscotto said:
European countries are well known for their exquisite cuisine, fine wines and of course, the best espressos (in the world perhaps?).
Hardly. In France, coffee is plain old awful. In Italy, the average quality of espresso is higher than what you will get in average US shop, but the top level US shops are better than most of the espresso you will get in Italy.
 
OP
V

Var

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ElPugDiablo said:
Hardly. In France, coffee is plain old awful. In Italy, the average quality of espresso is higher than what you will get in average US shop, but the top level US shops are better than most of the espresso you will get in Italy.

I found that the cappuccio I'd buy every morning in Italy was stupendous. It was in Italy that I began to really enjoy coffee products. Before then in California I went to cafes mainly for the ambiance and music, because the (affordable) coffee was bad.

As for France, it's not hard to find sublime coffee. But I did notice that in very touristy parts of Paris the cafe au laits were mediocre to bad. But then, in highly touristed areas of any city there is the high risk of that.

In Austria the coffee was wonderful, less so in Germany.

Whether buying coffee or anything else in Europe, you have to look at where the locals go. The locals don't go to touristy spots. Time and time again I found that if I watched to see where they go, or just asked, I was rewarded.

When I've applied this rule of following the crowd in the US, often the result is disaster. Americans just want to be where the crowd is. Starbucks is the worst, it's just Chucky Cheese for Adults (CCA).

But again if one asks an aficionado in the US, one can find something good.
:grin:
 

ourcoffeebarn

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Nov 8, 2004
174
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Wisconsin
My tour of duty in the Army in Mainz, Germany (1986 -1989) Got my love for coffee put in high gear! At that time you could go to a dance club, drink beer and wine, dance or just people watch and then on the way out of the same club find an espresso stand set up in the building. This is before coffee kiosks in the US! Maybe some dance clubs have this option in the US now, but I am not in that lifestyle anymore!
I loved to get an espresso with a chocolate at any Confectori in Mainz.

On a trip to the Adriatic Sea of Italy I just could not believe the espresso Heaven I found myself in! A shop on every corner! sound familiar? But these were not nice by any means as a whole.

I have not bean to Europe since so I don't know about todays shops.

But I can honestly say the Espresso in Europe is big reason why I started a coffee roasting business!

I am trying to get back into posting more here, I always enjoy this site!
 
I think this is an interesting debate. I would say the differences in cafe and coffee culture (the US vs. Europe) is a cultural and historical one- and it is also an ever changing evolution that has continued from obvious beginings in Europe. Generally I enjoy the cafes of Italy- the types of pastries and food they offer as well as the quality of the coffee and service. The buzz and atmosphere of these places in the morning is amazing- but of course you have to rememember the Italians drink 43 BILLION cups of coffee a year- 30% of these in the morning orrientated cafes. The passion for coffee and the undeniably central part it plays in Italians' lives plays a huge part in the coffee industry in Italy. I agree the cafe designs are beautiful, and I actually love a lot of the design ideas that I see on my trips there.

Are the cafe designs and menu standards directly transferable to cafes operations in the USA and other countries? Not always. For instance, coffee culture has developed on very different lines in America from Italy. It was, I dare say, the norm until at least the early 1990's for coffee in dinners and restaurants around the States to be served by the cup from carafes that had been sitting on bunn warmer plates for hours. I remember a road trip I did through (the now quite coffee sophisticated) West and Mountain States of America in 1990. The coffee was, almost universally, ahhem..apallingly bad. However (before someone berates me) I would like to add coffee evolution has happened at a speed that would make Charles Darwin turn somersaults in his grave. Coffee blends, especially those used in Espresso based drinks, are now very good- albeit it different from those European counterparts.

Touching on the quality of coffee in the cup- the espresso or cappuccini/o enjoyed in the cafe in France, Italy or the USA is a different issue altogether. I really enjoy the coffee from the small roasters all over Italy...however in some respects tradition defines what you will get in the cup all over Europe. Looking at where the coffee comes from, and what type of beans are being used- means that I can pretty much second guess the cupping characters of what I will served at a bar/caffe in Italy. I am never (or at least very rarely) disappointed. However, I am also rarely pleasantly supprised by anything unique or funky in the cup. What I am saying is Italian coffee is of a good standard, but perhaps not exceptional. Conversely in the USA the traditional constrains and expectations of a coffee roaster and their client base are not so concrete or stepped in tradition. Therefore a roaster there may, and often will, experiement with a huge number of origins when blending- consequently an espresso shot you may get in a small cafe in Boulder, Colorado, roasted by a small regional roaster may be outstandingly different from anything you may experience elsewhere.

I would say, from a somewhat neutral standpoint, that globally coffee seems to be heading into two different schools of thought- the "European" way and "the American influencing the rest of the world outside of Europe" way. In Asia I would estimate nearly all cafes that I see being built- loosely, or sometimes not so loosely, mimick American cafe design, menu, coffee blends etc. Obviously the pioneering presence of Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Spinelli's etc in Asia has meant that coffee culture is somewhat following the American chain ideals of cafe design, and culture by default. In countries such as New Zealand and Australia, where coffee evolution started much earlier (after WWII immigrants from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Austria and Holland flooded into both countries bringing European Coffee culture with them) the US style chains really struggle and the independent cafes that often reflect European design concepts do very, very well.

Anyway a waffle...a verbal one rather than you can eat! But I do think the differences in coffee culture make things interesting. I do know the SCAA and SCAE standards are not at all that far apart.
 
Jan 18, 2008
704
1
MASS.
Well, my opinion just got obliterated. My apologies to those who own cafes in the states.

I guess I just heard too many times that we Americans lack culture in our country. I have many friends from around the world who've always pointed out how much better everywhere else is than here.

I gotta get out more...... and get some new friends too.

Ha ha ha. :D
 
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V

Var

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Alun_evans said:
I don't think cafe culture in the USA is bad/poor or any other profoundly negatlve sentiment, just quite different than that found in Europe. I'd say evolution is important, so in many ways what you guys do Stateside takes coffee, globally, forward 8)

In my part of the USA, unfortunately Starbucks (some call it CharBucks) has come to dominate. In the evenings one can go to a Starbucks and see locals being reasonably civilized, talking about their lives and such. However often when I've gone to any Starbucks, I see the obnoxious people, who are encouraged by employees to behave as though Starbucks is a bar, and indeed they act drunk. I see the same obnoxiousness at Panera bread. People will bump into you or even block your path and not apologize. Loud, inconsiderate people, cackling or whooping without any self-control whatsoever, yelling over the crowd, yelling over the music, and meanwhile the employees do the same, even while they turn up the music. It's horrible, frankly. But this is why I call Starbucks Chuck-E-Cheese for Adults. It attracts people who overseas would be called Ugly Americans. The only time to be at a Starbucks is when it's empty, or if it's near a university so the customers are more considerate and have more self-control, or when polite locals dominate the place.
 

JohnB

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May 30, 2008
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Connecticut
I'm curious if most of the European Cafes & restaurants are smoke free like most places in the states these days. I haven't been back to Europe since I toured through Germany, Austria, Italy on a motorcycle back in 1989. I remember that the coffee was pretty good but I seldom stayed inside as everyone smoked. Luckily there were lots of sidewalk cafes. It was also different seeing dogs allowed in eating establishments.

I like the Biscotti with your coffee idea but it is just one other thing to drive up the cost as its not really free.
 
I believe the Frence have just passed a (much hated) piece of legislation banning smoking in cafes, pubs etc. Last time I was in Italy I remember cafes stil had a few smokers inside, but this may have changed. In NZ smoking has been outlawed in cafes since the early 1990's and now is pretty much confined to small bits of grass or cement far from public buildings. In Indonesia legislation was passed last year forcing cafes to provide non-smoking sections. However this has been somewhat of failure as they generally provide 1 or 2 non smoking tables right next to smokers ones. Our policy has been, and always will be, no smoking whatsoever on any cafe we are involved with.

Too right about the extras. I mean obviously drinking your coffee at the bar saves at least E0.50 per cup- sometimes even more. Nothing is free in Europe- a basket of bread that comes out before a light meal will be charged to your account if you eat it... pure commerce :grin:
 
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Var

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Alun_evans said:
Hey Var... I was trying to be polite and, um, as balanced as possible (as obviously I am not an American! :wink: ). I will leave this debate to you guys who live in the forementioned country :grin:

Yeah, quality of clientele is a separate discussion really.
 

ElPugDiablo

New member
Jul 16, 2004
991
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Hartford and New Haven, CT
Alun_evans said:
I think this is an interesting debate. I would say the differences in cafe and coffee culture (the US vs. Europe) is a cultural and historical one- and it is also an ever changing evolution that has continued from obvious beginings in Europe. Generally I enjoy the cafes of Italy- the types of pastries and food they offer as well as the quality of the coffee and service. The buzz and atmosphere of these places in the morning is amazing- but of course you have to rememember the Italians drink 43 BILLION cups of coffee a year- 30% of these in the morning orrientated cafes. The passion for coffee and the undeniably central part it plays in Italians' lives plays a huge part in the coffee industry in Italy. I agree the cafe designs are beautiful, and I actually love a lot of the design ideas that I see on my trips there.

Are the cafe designs and menu standards directly transferable to cafes operations in the USA and other countries? Not always. For instance, coffee culture has developed on very different lines in America from Italy. It was, I dare say, the norm until at least the early 1990's for coffee in dinners and restaurants around the States to be served by the cup from carafes that had been sitting on bunn warmer plates for hours. I remember a road trip I did through (the now quite coffee sophisticated) West and Mountain States of America in 1990. The coffee was, almost universally, ahhem..apallingly bad. However (before someone berates me) I would like to add coffee evolution has happened at a speed that would make Charles Darwin turn somersaults in his grave. Coffee blends, especially those used in Espresso based drinks, are now very good- albeit it different from those European counterparts.
The irony here is that Starbucks is suppose to introduce the Italian coffee bar concept to the US. I guess they balled that up pretty much.

Alun_evans said:
Anyway a waffle...a verbal one rather than you can eat! But I do think the differences in coffee culture make things interesting. I do know the SCAA and SCAE standards are not at all that far apart.
It is interesting that the World Barista Championship winners are mostly from Northern European countries, add a couple from Australia and England - now that is one place known for it's coffee. But does the Italian compete in WBC?
 

ElPugDiablo

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Hartford and New Haven, CT
Var said:
Yeah, quality of clientele is a separate discussion really.
Now this is the heart of the European vs America cafe culture. In Austria where cafe culture really started, people go to cafe for the community spirit, to meet friends and at the very least read old fashion newspaper. In the US, people go there to use free internet, they glue their face to the screen for hours and hours. You can have a packed cafe and all you hear is clicking keyboard, they don't go to cafe for a good time, they go to cafe to be anti social. In Italy, espresso is a simple pleasant 2 gulps pick me up. In the US, on the one hand espresso is overly roasted charcoal use to sell great big sugary milk drinks. On the other hand well crafted espresso is being nursed for hours. One way or the other, it is plain gross.
 
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