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August 29, 2007
Ever since I moved to Cancale, a village on the coast of Brittany, my coffee consumption has gone through the roof. I was a major java head before—my workdays in the VT offices always began with a large cup from the lunch counter downstairs—but never in my life have I consumed so much coffee in a single day.
This habit has nothing to do with caffeine addiction. Nor can it be compared in any way to drinking the 16-ounce Grande Americanos I’m partial to at Starbucks. Instead, the demitasses of espresso I drink in France are a social ritual, and have become a major part of my integration into the community here.
While just about everybody knows about the café culture in France, it took seven years of living here for me to learn that a cup of coffee at home is a sign of hospitality extended to whoever stops by. You even offer a cup of coffee to the plumber who just fixed the sink the same way you fix one for a friend. These coffee breaks tend to be short and sweet, with a quick exchange of news or gossip—then you go back to your day.
Because the kitchen window opens right onto the street and I’m usually working at the kitchen table, my current situation lends itself to lots of coffee moments. After two months of flustered inefficiency every time I tried to make coffee, I am finally armed and ready. I just invested in an Italian espresso maker, a thermos, and a box of sugar cubes (which the French prefer to granulated sugar). This way, when Marinette, my 72-year-old neighbor, peeks in on her way to visit her sister (at 1:30) or when Manu, the fisherman who parks his truck across the street, taps on the window before he heads back to work (around 2-ish) I can say, “Come on in. The coffee’s hot.” And I’ll still have a cup or two left in case someone else drops by later on.
—Mary Margaret Chappell, food editor