No More Panic When It Comes to Ordering a Drink in a Parisian Café
It's Easy and Here is a key!
Call it Apéritif, Call it a Drink
After reading our post about Parisian/French cafés, you’ve got the coffee ordering down in the. But what comes next? Ordering apéritif or drinks at a French café, which can be had pretty much any time of the day, but is typically taken as a prelude to a meal. Sometimes, but not always, it comes with a snack, which might be peanuts, or pretzels, or at my favorite neighborhood spot, Le Pasteur (on the corner of rue Vaugirard and Boulevard Pasteur, heading TOWARDS the Eiffel Tower, it’s a bowl of their own home made potato chips.
I digress. The list of beverages can be intimidating, but if you adhere to this list, you’ll have a big choice!
- Pastis – this is the successor of absinthe, which was called the “little green fairy” and was suspected of eating holes in the brain – Toulouse Lautrec, Rimbaud, and many others suffered from its effects. Pastis, which is a blend of distilled star anise, anise seed, and licorice is its successor. Created in the early 20th century by Paul Ricard, a young salesman, it soon became a favored drink throughout France. Its name is from the Provençale word patisson, which means “to mix,” because usually pastis is blended with water. What about Pernod, then, which appears (but is not) identical to Pastis? The Pernod family wanted a rival to pastis, and they created Pernod. The two families merged, and both drinks are still on the market. They resemble absinthe in flavor but there will be no holes in the brain from drinking either!
- Kir – “invented” in the early 20th century by then mayor of Dijon, Felix Kir, this iconic drink is a blend of dry white wine, most notably aligoté, and crème de cassis. It was created as a substitute for the more expensive champagne that was served at mayoral events, in an effort to manage the budget. The drink became overwhelmingly popular and it has cousin, the Kir Royale, which is crème de cassis and champagne. Were M. Kir’s efforts for naught?!
- Picon Bière – what a story, this drink! Picon was created by Gaëtan Picon, a French soldier stationed in Algeria. He and his comrades were plagued by thirst and malaria, and as an apprentice distiller he had already developed a “tea” that was both thirst-quenching and medicinal. He made some for himself and his friends and it was so successful that his general ordered him to create more. Made of orange peel macerated in gentian and quinine, he called it “African Bitters,” and it kept the entire French army on its feet. From there, its popularity exploded, and eventually it made its way to the north and East of France, where it was mixed with light beer into the famed “picon bière. Until recently it was “snobbed” in French cities as a peasant drink. It now enjoys a renaissance, baptized as a drink that is “neo retro”!
- Americano – campari, vermouth, seltzer, lemon or orange – this lively, bitter apéritif was invented by Gaspard Campari in his famed bar Campari, in central Milan, at the end of the 19th century. It got the name “Americano” during WWI because American soldiers drank it by the gallon, and purportedly transported their taste for it throughout the world, popularizing the drink.
- Martini Bianco ou Rosso (white or red) – Enter the Italians again, with the invention of Martini Rosso, the result of a collaboration between Alessandro Martini et Luigi Rossi, a distiller and an herbalist who created this blend of asti wine and herbs, in a small village outside Torino. The sweet and bitter martini rosso, red Vermouth, rivals the lighter more herbaceous martini bianco, both made according to time honored recipes.
- Diabolo menthe ou diabolo grenadine – the French love to add sweet, flavored syrups to seven-up, and the two most popular versions of this, diabolo menthe and diabolo grenadine, can be found at most every café in the hexagon. Invented in the 1920’s, they remain eternally popular.
- Cacolac – Originating from Bordeaux, this classic French drink combines fresh milk from Lot-et-Garonne, cocoa, and sugar. It comes in a small bottle, and is destined for children.
- Calvados – brandy from the Norman department of Calvados, this liqueur is made of fermented cider, made primarily from apples, though it can contain pears too. It is a perfect aperitif or after dinner drink.
- Armagnac – has the distinction of being the most ancient alcohol in the world. Developed 700 years ago in Gascony, southeast of Bordeaux, it became popular throughout France in the 18th century. Made with a blend of white wine grapes, it is distilled to between 52 and 70 degrees, then aged in oak barrels until ready to taste, at bout 45 degrees. Traditionally enjoyed after a meal, it can be served as an apéritif too. Different from cognac, and many say better, its fame is nonetheless more limited.
- Cognac – made north of Bordeaux, this is a double-distilled wine, developed in the 15th century. Cognac has become ferociously popular world-wide, typically enjoyed after meal, though it can be sipped at any time.
- Spritz – when the Austrians invaded Venice in the 19th century, they wanted the local wines watered down, so they requested a “spritzen” of fizzy water in their glasses. Thus, the Spritz was born. Fast forward, and the 20th century saw prosecco added to the drink, along with a bitter liqueur, either Aperol or Campari, and a round of fresh orange. Some call the Spritz the cocktail that rules the world!
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1 thought on “Drinks to Order in French Cafe”
Thank you for the reminder for all the apéritifs we’ve come to know so well. What about cider? ‘Cidre breton’ I love to dilute down my own distilled Calvados with sparkling apple juice for a long drink. A la votre🍸