CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> 4 Cafes in Paris, London, & Berkeley

Back Buzz - March 27, 1998

pumping heart Le Cadran du Nord, 13 rue Dunkerque, 10e Arrondissement, Paris, France

pumping heart Caffé Uno, 24 Charing Cross Road, London WC2, England

pumping heart Caffé Strada, 2300 College Avenue, Berkeley, California

pumping heart The French Hotel Cafe, 1538 Shattuck Avenue, North Berkeley, California

I know, I know -- this is supposed to be a column about Seattle coffeehouses. But Seattle isn't the only place on earth with espresso, you know; a reader from Cincinnati pointed this out recently. And seeing as how I've been out of town for the past month -- and I did actually drink a couple of good cappuccinos while I was gone, believe it or not -- I've decided to branch out occasionally and write about cafes I visit in my travels. Because there is espresso life outside of Seattle. I know that may be hard for the locals to swallow, but it's true. (It is!)

The big advantage to Le Cadran du Nord, of course, is that it's in France, where it's easy to get a decent coffee and a real challenge to muck it up. Believe me, I have had mediocre coffee in Paris, but not very often. Le Cadran du Nord is a pretty little cafe directly across from Gare du Nord. They make a good omelet and a superb sandwich Camembert, and their coffee is wonderful. Since I'd just spent a week drinking instant coffee at the home of some friends in Kent -- England, that is -- the cappuccino at Le Cadran made me swoon in comparison. It was so rich and strong and delicious. A perfect cup, too, perfect foam, perfect ambiance. And I could watch myself moan and sigh in the large mosaic-rimmed mirror on the far wall.

(About that instant coffee: hey, I was in England for the beer, not the coffee, okay? I'm not going to complain; they were great hosts.)

In London I caught a quick cappuccino with my friend Kay at Caffé Uno, an Italian cafe chain. This Uno, just off Trafalgar Square, was empty when we stopped in on a Saturday around lunchtime. The decor is casually elegant yet inviting, and my double cappuccino, although sprinkled with cinnamon, was adequate. Not great, mind you -- but much better than that instant, um, "coffee". (Oops! I wasn't going to complain...) And although a waiter took my order, I feel quite certain the barista would have gladly accepted any tips, suggestions, and criticisms I could have offered. It's just a feeling I had.

Back in the U.S. of A., on a side trip to California, my Bay Area friend Mistah Rick took me to two cafes in Berkeley. The first one, Caffé Strada, is right on the south edge of UC Berkeley. On this Saturday morning the patio was filled with students of all types: undergrads, grad students, part-time students, old geezers taking weekend classes in Italian Renaissance Costumes and Tap-Dancing, you name it. It was a promising atmosphere. But there's this big problem with ordering a double short cappuccino in California: they just don't understand the concept of "double short". I always end up with two cappuccinos in one, weakened with way too much milk in a huge cup with about 8 ounces more liquid than I had intended to drink. And that's what I ended up with here: two shots of espresso hiding in the bottom of a goddamn pint glass, with a wall of impenetrable foam higher than Mount Shasta! Now, how the hell was I supposed to consume such a drink? If I attempted to drink it like the "drink" it claims to be, I would end up with a faceful of milk foam while a few precious drops of espresso dribbled down my chin. Come on, guys, keep the pint glasses for beer, okay? Or at least for double tall lattes. A double short cappuccino does not work in such a vessel!

Mistah Rick was nice enough to swipe a regular cappuccino cup for me; but by the time I got the enigmatic "drink" poured into the cup all the milk foam had turned brown. An interesting variation visually, but it didn't taste very good.

(An interesting note: For 25 cents extra Caffé Strada will make your espresso drink with Spike, a high-octane espresso. Considering you can now get caffeinated water, this doesn't surprise me in a university town.)

The French Hotel Cafe, on the other hand, is a delight. It's an actual French inn with rooms you can rent, and it features a cafe on the ground floor where Latino baristas make Italian coffee drinks. Fearing another pint-sized monstrosity I ordered a "short cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso." The barista said, "Oh, so you want it strong!" I sighed with relief and said, "Yes! Yes!" And what I got was a lovely white china cup with a very satisfying, strong double cappuccino topped with a perfect soft blanket of foam.

But back to the subject of traveling: I've been back from Europe for a couple of weeks now, but I'm still suffering from the subtle effects of jet lag. Aside from craving a pint of Old Speckled Hen for breakfast, I leap out of bed bright and early -- which, considering I'm a night person, is not only completely out of character but often quite dangerous. And at 10:00 or 11:00 at night I feel like a bowl of cereal. Why is it I get over jet lag traveling eastward so much quicker than traveling westward? One simple nap in Europe is all it takes to straighten me out; but back in the US it takes weeks. I suppose it's because time is speeded up when you travel east but slowed down when you travel west. A sunrise or sunset during a westbound flight can last for several hours -- even longer than normal, according to a recent article in the Washington Post which claims El Niño is temporarily lengthening the days.

So what I would like to know is this: if a person travels completely around the world eastbound, watching the hours zip past quickly, do they end up a day older than someone who travels around the world westbound? And what happens to the clock in their laptop?

Following is a recent short e-mail exchange about a similar subject:

I have decided that when you're dealing with computers and e-mail, time goes through some strange warps. I have no control over the time here at work. When we log in, our PC clocks are slaved to the server clock, so I have no control over the time setting. Right now, according to my computer clock, it is 3:48:20 PM Pacific Standard Time. (Yes, Windows 95 is aware of the shift to and from Daylight time, and if you are at your computer as 2:00 AM rolls by on the penultimate Saturday in October, it will set your clock back to 1:00 AM and do it again an hour later and on and on forever.) However, according to my watch, which is synched with the BART clocks, it is only 3:45:40, so I am forever rushed by my computer clock.

Your last e-mail message was stamped 5:39 PM, which, as we have noted, must be Compuserve Standard Time, because it arrived in my In box at 2:58 PM, nearly 3 hours before it was sent.

I wonder whatever happened to my ball clock. Sometimes I miss the sound of those rolling steel balls, plastic tracks and flipping levers. Over the years at my previous job I lost quite a few of my balls, and eventually time would freeze at 12:59.

Hmmm...what does it all mean? Why do so many businesses continue to use clocks when it becomes more and more obvious every day that time is completely irrelevant?