“I fell in love with Bordeaux”
I don’t like phrasings like “I fell in love with Bordeaux”. But I can’t think of a more fitting one to describe how much I like Bordeaux. After being here on eight different occasions, ranging from four hours to nine days I feel like it has become my second home town. Half the time I was schlepping my duffel from Black List to Piha. The other half of the time I lived in four different homes. There I got to bike, bus, or take the boat into the old town center, aka the hotspot for specialty coffee shops in Bordeaux.
I also jogged along the Garonne, went shopping at La Recharge (the waste-free grocery shop) and recommended tourists, as well as locals, some hidden spots. However what made me feel most at home was the specialty coffee shops in Bordeaux. They were very personal and welcoming, though not pushy – only friendly in an unpretentious way. The fast internet, cool coffee books and delicious meals (and flat whites and matcha of course) gave me an excuse to come again and again.
Every specialty coffee shop in Bordeaux deserves its own post.
But then Bordeaux would be ahead of Hamburg on my blog. (Not that I would ever finish these entries before exploring Toulouse, Montpellier, Lyon and Basel.) So I will:
- talk about the specialty coffee scene in general, by comparing it to Hamburg
- go into detail, about each individual coffee shop, sharing their best features and my favorite memories
If you opened this page to read a precise, informative, coffee-based article about all nine specialty coffee shops (for now) in Bordeaux then you’re wrong. I wrote that article on European Coffee Trip. But still, stay with me please, my observations are interesting 😉
Bordeaux vs. Hamburg
Supposedly it rains every third day or something in Bordeaux. That wasn’t true for my visits. The locals also don’t seem to be used to rain. One time it drizzled everybody was hiding under store fronts and their faces were like they just ate a tomato. Hamburger’s are tougher than that. But still . . .
Bordeaux reminded me of Hamburg in many ways.
- second biggest town in the country
- a handful of coffee shops compared to the capital, but enough to explore for weeks
- kind of chic
- residents that cling to their hometown
However the specialty coffee shops showed their differences.
I told everybody how similar these cities are. How the Bordelaise should come to Hamburg, they would love it. How my family and friends should come to Bordeaux. However I also liked noticing all the differences. I mostly did this by comparing their specialty coffee shops. Only after the following analysis I realized what made me fall in love with Bordeaux. I admired too many parts of its specialty coffee shops.
⇒ They incorporate french culture into 3rd wave expectations.
Ever heard of Raclette at a specialty coffee shop? Well go to Bordeaux, and you can be served one next to a perfect flat white. These cafés manage to incorporate the french culture in the modern third wave coffee scene. You’ll always find formule breakfasts (juice-coffee-pastry), local products and traditional pastries.
They rarely make avocado toasts with poached egg. ⇔ In HAMBURG, the only customary specialty coffee shop item is a NY cheesecake with homemade strawberry sauce. That’s not even German. At most Balz and Balz is comparable to this Bordelaise feature. Their open-faced sandwiches and sheet cakes represent the local culture within a qualitative third wave manner. Or maybe Milch too, they serve Fischbrötchen!
Picking up on this point: truite fumée and œufs brouillés. That’s like the Bordelaise, lavish coffee shop breakfast. Nobody serves salmon here. It looks like they do, but the salty red fish is actually trout, local and different. Regarding eggs, you’ll find a few poached ones, but more popular are these fluffy, moist scrambled eggs. It’s worth a try at every spot (SIP, Horace, Café Laiton). They all have their own twists.
⇒ You can dine sophisticated meals at the specialty coffee shops in Bordeaux.
Now you could conclude to my next point already. Though the specialty coffee shops in Bordeaux are small and personal, they serve sophisticated meals. The French usually only eat a very petit “petit-dejeuner”. But foreigners’ breakfast wishes, that are like mine, will uniquely be please in the Bordelaise coffee shops. However you might want to wait for lunch. Lunch is legit in France. Most dishes change daily or weekly. They can be accompanied by wine or beer. And sometimes you get the option of a formula, which adds an appetizer/dessert. Sometimes its the only choice. ⇔ In HAMBURG, if a coffee shop offers something savory, it’s usually sandwiches, bagels or quiches. Maybe Balz and Balz again, would be the best exception. They offer a sophisticated, sit-down lunch with changing soups daily.
⇒ The array of colourful lattes really caught my eye.
If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a very frequent speciality coffee shop visitor that doesn’t drink coffee. I like to opt for other colored lattes. The majority of the specialty coffee shops in Bordeaux not only offer beetroot or turmeric lattes, but they can also do spectacular latte art in the cup of matcha or artisan hot chocolate. Did I mention: pumpkin spiced latte!
A drink like that is one of the few reasons I still travel to the US. If only Europe could give me more of this, I would stay here and travel by train my whole life. ⇔ Now back to HAMBURG: If I find Matcha, it is served in tall glasses with foamy pale latte art. Yes, I know not everything is about the latte art. But I don’t go to coffee shops because I’m starving to death and need to feed myself in the cheapest possible way. For me it is the whole experience, which includes an aesthetically appealing drink
⇒ Bordelaise coffee shops had a different feel.
Again this might have been me who changed. I’m “on vacation” and not in my (first) hometown. However from the owners and baristas to the Bordelaise regulars and foreign customers – I had a more personal experience in the specialty coffee shops in Bordeaux.
The specialty coffee shops in Bordeaux felt more personal. The owners were always behind the counter. That also means that no coffee shop exists twice or three times. ⇔ In HAMBURG, many coffee shops are like this too, so no critic them at all. (Nord Coast, Blackline, Balz and Balz, Milch, Tørnqvist, Playground . . .) They are just as lovely. But many aren’t as well. In Bordeaux really every coffee shop has this personal touch.
BETTER FOR LAPTOP WORK:
The passionate owners don’t open their coffee shop as a co-working space. So these cafés aren’t taken over by bohemian freelancers. Still, it feels more comfortable to get laptop work done here, than in Hamburg. ⇔ In HAMBURG, working on your MacBook is only slowly becoming established. I still often feel out of place unpacking my laptop amidst chatting ladies.
Talking about chatting ladies: That’s the way I noticed myself describe the clientele of most of Hamburg’s coffee shops, while I was writing the Hamburg article for European Coffee Trip. ⇔ In BORDEAUX you’ll find them too. However I only spotted them in a more widely mixed clientele. There were local seniors, “nobodies” in coffee (aka the average French), families with kids, tourists looking for lunch and middle-aged adults reading the newspaper with a coffee and croissant before work.
THEY SUPPORT EACH OTHER:
Last but not least, the specialty coffee shops in Bordeaux are really close. The baristas, roasters and owners seem like a tight group of friends. They visit and support each other. I’ve seen Pierre at Horace, and Julie at Café Laiton. Pascal, Gaele and Julie are also slowing starting to use Piha roasts. Black List is taking care of its big younger brother Horace by closing on Sundays. The stylish business cards are finely distributed in each others coffee shops. Yes, remark, they are not stamp cards. Bordelaise don’t come here to cheaply consume, they come to cherish. Lastly, if you were a tourist who didn’t read my articles, and needed a tip were to drink a coffee, just go to one of the specialty coffee shops in Bordeaux and they’ll give you a list of all your other options.
I’m not trying to make Hamburg’s coffee scene bad. It’s wonderful. Maybe it’s because I live in Hamburg, that Bordeaux’s particularities appeal to me . . . But it’s more than a feeling. These facets of the specialty coffee shops in Bordeaux are black on white above. They are the reason why I would recommend anyone to make a longest detour to come here.
However, Hamburg’s coffee shops have some pros too.
You for example can’t find ginger or almond cappuccinos in Bordeaux yet. And I have to admit that I really like NY cheesecake with homemade strawberry sauce.
VEGAN MILK FOR LATTE ART:
Hamburg’s baristas have long accomplished vegan demands in third wave coffee. ⇔ If BORDEAUX could only find the right vegan milk for latte art. Then they could make as beautiful hearts as they can with French cow milk.
Paris is way more expensive than Berlin. ⇔ Luckily BORDEAUX is only a bit more expensive than Hamburg. Although, Bordelaise looks maybe justify the price. A flat white costs around 4€ in Bordeaux, whilst you can find it for 2,90-3,80€ in Hamburg.
PLENTIFUL VEGAN (AND GF) TREATS:
Coming back to vegan demands: When writing my article for ECT, I remember how Karo, the editor, remarked that I mentioned vegan and gluten-free pastries for almost every café. ⇔ The FRENCH have some of the best butter. They like to use it. (Have a tartine at . . . (wait for it), then you’ll know.) It’s extremely hard to find vegan or gluten-free treats along with specialty coffee in this town. Usually Piha bakes one gluten-free and vegan pastry, SIP’s fondant au chocolat is gluten-free and I saw an almond flour cookie at Black List too. But that’s pretty much all for now. Solely Banana Café will serve you specialty coffee alongside an array of gluten-free, and sometimes vegan, meals and pastries.
ALLOW A DIGESTIVE WALK:
Lastly, the specialty coffee shops in Bordeaux are densely placed in the old town center. Only La Pelle and Café Laiton allow you a little digestive walk. Though as a tourist, to explore the city, I think it would be cool if there were some specialty coffee shops on the outskirts of town. Like what about on the other side of the Garonne? A bridge apparently isn’t enough to cross a river nowadays. ⇔ HAMBURG too is still waiting for Wilhelmsburg or Harburg to host a third waver. However at least the rest of their coffee shops range from cozy Ottensen and the touristy harbor, to posh Winterhude.
But now let me get to the point . . .
Do you want to know where to devour raclette next to flat whites? Where to meet Bordeaux’s coffee bloggers? Where to sip the best matcha lattes? Or where I started loving plain old tartines (bread, butter, jam) for breakfast? Soon I will get more precise. I had actually wanted to give you all information in this post right here. But now I decided to let us digest this first. Then we can savour the actual coffee shops with a fresh mind. Stay tuned!