In France, the first ever coffee shop was opened in Marseille in 1671. The following year, an Armenian opened Paris' own first coffee shop. As the scale of French colonial production increased, the prices dropped, and so by the 1750s, the elite, fashionable coffee had overtaken soup as the morning meal of choice. The addiction had spread to the masses.
French coffee tends to be more potent, without being burned like at some international coffee chains...ahem. Due to bean choice, it is considered a touch less fragrant than the Italian brew, considered peerless by so many in the know. The French, unlike the Italians, have historically used robusta or robusta blends, and the robusta bean is far stronger (to the point of a certain bitterness); in the past, they have been known to add chicory. The French also borrowed from the Middle Eastern tradition of rather heavily roasting beans. Therein lies some of the distinctiveness of the French coffee tradition. Not all the tradition is without shadow, as the roaring demand for coffee in France and the rest of Europe was long met by slave labor in faraway, tropical countries. Today, in France as well as in other Western European countries and the United States, quality fair-trade coffee is available, helping to mitigate market fluctuation and speculation in often poor coffee-producing countries, where the work of coffee cultivation continues to be uncertain.
Beyond the satiating traditional bowl of hot milk-laced café au lait (which, in the province, is often conflated with a café crème, which should technically contain hot cream), my all-around favorite way to enjoy coffee in France is the noisette, which is an expresse with a rich touch of cream. It is a nut-brown ambrosia, in a very small cup. Parenthetically, the French expresse is not really the same as a proper Italian expresso: the first, while strong, is made with more water.
The robusta bean was brought to Vietnam by the French in the 1800s and is still cultivated there today, along with arabica and others types of beans. Most fortunately for food-lovers everywhere, the Vietnamese have a culinary gift for elevating simple ingredients to unexpected heights. They did so once again with the humble robusta: they made the Cà phê sữa đá, or iced coffee. The word is pronounced 'ca-fé sue-ah-dah', roughly speaking, and is the drink to linger over with friends on an unseasonably hot Indian summer afternoon.
As you might make out in the photo below, taken in Vietnam last year after a particularly satisfying lunch, the Vietnamese use handy individual metal filters that are placed directly on top of the glass in which the iced coffee will be served. These filters are found at your local Asian/Vietnamese grocery for less than 2 euros, or online. They are essentially French presses in concept, requiring a medium-coarse grind and no paper filter.
A generous couple tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk are dolloped over the ice in the glass, and the filter, filled with coffee and boiling water, is placed over the glass. A couple minutes later, and voilà! You have a decadent drink that doubles as dessert. Of course, using aforementioned ice cubes and condensed milk, you can also make your own tasty iced coffee using a double shot of expresso rather than the traditional filtered coffee...
If you just don't want to make your own and you are lucky enough to find yourself in Paris--if not, say, Hanoi--then you have a plethora of restaurant choices at which to enjoy an iced coffee of your own. Please note that Vietnamese cuisine goes far beyond fast-food style fare. Of the many Vietnamese who immigrated to Paris, some have opened some very good restaurants, ranging from refined/upscale to downhome and delicious. Even Catherine Deneuve has her favorite haunt. (Photo courtesy of filmkrant.nl). I'll be hanging out at some of these restaurants myself in a couple of weeks, a perspiring glass of iced coffee in hand...