With all due respect to France and the French: if you can rely on one thing at the Tour, it’s bad coffee.
The espresso: bad. The filter coffee: bad. The milky coffee: bad. The Official Coffee of the Tour de France: particularly bad.
The reason why is complicated and three-fold. We’ll first point our finger at colonialism. When France spread its wings around the world as a colonial power of bygone centuries, its ships landed on territories that were better suited to the growth of robusta beans, which produce a less characterful flavour than the arabica beans that are favoured by most coffee-lovers. As a result, generations ago, robusta gained a resilient foothold in France – where it was often cut with chicory, and shockingly still sometimes is – resulting in a flavour profile that is widely-accepted in France, and widely-reviled elsewhere.
The second factor: generations of French coffee drinkers have come to accept that this is what coffee is. Repeated exposure leads to acquired tastes, and there are few tastes more acquired than a French cup of coffee – but if you’ve spent a lifetime consuming bitter, caffeine-heavy robusta espresso and suddenly get exposed to a fruity arabica, your palate will understandably be befuddled.
The third factor: there is little ‘coffee culture’ in France, where it is an aggressively functional drink rather than something to savour. A quick espresso to finish a meal? Sure. A morning pick-me-up, served dismissively? Absolutely. But a barista lovingly crafting latte-art, talking to you about notes of butterscotch and boysenberry, is a rare beast in France, especially outside of major cities. This is a land where boulangeries crank their coffees out of Nespresso pods or Senseo machines, without any sense of shame or irony.
At the Tour de France, it’s Senseo that is most prominent. They’re a longstanding partner of the race, represented in the start village, the caravan, and the press room. Any journalist covering the race has become intimately familiar with what it brings to the table, which is as follows:
You take a round teabag looking thing from one of the three flavours on offer, all of which taste the same. You blister your fingers removing the dripping remains of the previous occupant from the top of the Senseo machine, and install yours. You close the top flap, grab a paper cup, and push one of the buttons on the bottom to dispense your coffee. Stand there for anything from a minute to five minutes, resisting the urge to walk away while your dignity is still intact. Finally, your coffee weakly trickles into your cup at a temperature that will scald your throat for the next 15 minutes. You go and sit down at the plastic table that is your home for the day, and – at some point about 30 minutes later – evacuate your bowels in a gymnasium toilet without a seat. This is your lot in life.
Until this year.
You guys, Senseo has some new flavours! They have milk powder in the round teabag looking thing, and they are not actively terrible!
There are two new offerings just waiting to blow your socks off: cafe au lait, and cappuccino, both of which taste identical, both of which are lovingly and collectively referred to by Escape Collective as ‘a milky boy’. I assume that they are slightly more expensive, because this Tour de France they are only available in the exclusive grounds of the start village – not the press room. Nonetheless, they are a perfectly fine way to start the day (still violently hot, but beggars can’t be choosers). Well done, Senseo! You made something that was kind of drinkable!
At risk of making this sound even more like Senseo sponsored content, this Tour was also revelatory in another sense, due to Escape Collective‘s discovery of a life-hack. Find a tube of sweetened condensed milk, squirt in until your bad press room coffee is approaching palatable, swirl around, and marvel in your sense of superiority over your colleagues: you have made the really awful non-milky-boy Senseo coffee taste a tiny bit better.
Of course, you and those colleagues are all also drinking the worst coffee in the world. But the tingly thrill of a half-tolerable 30 minutes between sip and shit? That is a small victory that we will take.
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