The Quest for Iced Coffee
Spring break here in Paris finds me sitting in my favorite Australian café, Kooka Boora. For aesthetic purposes, let’s say that the sun is shining and I’m sitting at a sidewalk table with an espresso perched next to my laptop, watching the locals and tourists saunter by in the warm weather. In reality, it’s rainy and gray and I’m squished at a shared indoor table, contemplating ordering a chocolate chip cookie. Welcome to spring in Paris. But let’s pretend my vacation is just as idyllic and typically Parisian as you’d imagine.
I’m not sure if you caught it, but I’m at an Australian café. The baristas are French—mostly—but they all speak English. The clientele almost exclusively hails from English-speaking countries, from America to New Zealand. It not only serves traditional Australian coffee drinks, but is also hailed as serving some of the best coffee in Paris.
I understand that this seems like a bit of a failure on my part. After all, shouldn’t I be spending all my time in French establishments, speaking French with a snooty French garçon? Honestly, that was my expectation, too, for how I would be exploring Paris. “Hanging out with Americans in an English-speaking setting? I would never,” or so I assumed before setting out. I would like to attribute my current surroundings to culture shock.
Let me explain myself. If you’ve ever even contemplated studying abroad, you’ve heard about culture shock. I define it as a search for the familiar: suddenly realizing that the things you take for granted and depend on at home just do not exist in the society in which you find yourself. The Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris held a three hour-long meeting on the subject. Packets were even handed out for further reading, checklists of symptoms included. Culture shock, they warned, would hit. It would be unexpected, and it would be devastating. It would be different for each of us, could be provoked by any number of things. However, we would get through it and emerge stronger.
I’ll admit that I was skeptical. The French are not all that different from Americans. But come the warm weather, culture shock came knocking on my door, albeit in a mild form. Something in me immediately associates spring and summer with iced coffee—not lemonade, a bottle of water, or a cold soda. Iced coffee. I like to walk the streets, cup in hand or sit on a bench and sip.
And that’s where my trouble started; it is almost impossible to find iced coffee in France. Here, coffee is a thing served hot, in an espresso demitasse. If you can stand the withering looks, you can order an Americano (watered-down espresso) which is slightly larger. But iced? In a container big enough to sip from? Even the baristas at a Starbucks in Paris, (where iced coffee is not on the menu), will give you a confused and slightly disgusted look of “quoi?” if you request a drink cold.
Contemplating the sun-filled months ahead, my caffeinated drink options seemed bleak. I could not reconcile hot espresso with a hot day. It’s sort of a pathetic thing to admit, but that made me miss America, and our belief that drinks should be served with ice, especially in the hot weather. I tried all of the places I figured the beverage of my dreams would exist. Starbucks was already a bust, and even the McDonald’s in the touristy parts of town didn’t offer iced options. I had just about resigned myself to a summer missing a certain, cold, je ne sais quoi, when my friend told me about Kooka Boora.
I was hesitant at first. It’s one thing to go to an American chain to get coffee; they’re so integrated into the Parisian lifestyle that a trip to McDonald’s, while not exactly encouraged, is understood. But a place that bills itself as Australian? Where the menu is in English and French is rarely heard? To me, it smacked of treason. Then I tried their iced coffee, my homesickness vanished, and any reservations I had disappeared.
Have I emerged stronger? During the little time I’ve spent at Kooka Boora, my caffeine addiction has certainly grown, and Paris does feel slightly more like home. In my search, I was able to explore the non-touristy part of Montmartre and found a new favorite place to do homework, to boot. I suppose a point I’m trying to make is to embrace culture shock, and let it take you where it leads you. It reveals what you love about home, especially those things that you didn’t know you missed, and can lead to great discoveries.
And that’s why I find myself at this Australian café. I won’t claim that I had an extreme case of culture shock. But I did spend a good portion of my time in Paris searching for something quintessentially American and un-French—yet, I ultimately found it in Australia.
I’ve heard there is an American café, called Sugarplum, that serves iced coffee. But to me, that’s a step too far. An American café seems like giving up and going home. After all, Australia is even farther away than France.