The number of French cafes has steeply declined over the past few decades, as the country's celebrated cafe culture has battled against legal and societal challenges – most recently a smoking ban, but also a general reluctance to adapt to a younger clientele. Yet in , where the romantic's idea of a good time is to while the afternoon away on a sidewalk table, nursing a petit noir (an espresso) and observing passers-by, cafes are still a long way from oblivion. Every Parisian has a favourite haunt – one that may have no distinguishing feature besides being around the corner from his apartment or workplace – and nothing will make you feel local like finding one of your own. But in the meantime, here's a selection of notable spots that place a particular emphasis on the ambiance and the quality of the coffee.
CAFE DES 2 MOULINS
The Café des 2 Moulins' claim to fame came in the form of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's instant classic film Amélie, which used it as the heroine's charmingly vintage place of employ. Ten years after the film's release, tourists still pop in on their pilgrimage tour of Amélie's Montmartre, but it has largely gone back to being a comfy neighbourhood café – minus the tobacco counter, which has been nixed in favour of more sitting room. The scatter of tables and bright red chairs on the sloping pavement is the perfect vantage point from which to observe the lively street market.
• 15 rue Lepic, 18th, +33 1 4254 9050. Métro: Blanche
Just a block from the theatre and the Louvre, this century-old coffee shop stocks more than 20 varieties of single-origin beans and house blends, freshly roasted and gloriously aromatic. It also operates as a quaint salon de café, where you can sample the coffee of your choice (about €3) with an optional slice of cake provided by an Austrian pastry shop across town. The cosy window seats in the upstairs room are particularly enviable.
256 rue Saint-Honoré, 1st, +33 1 4260 6739, cafesverlet.com. Métro: Pyramides
Although Parisians have (depressingly) taken to Starbucks like ducks to water, coffee buffs prefer to quench their thirst for American-style coffee establishments at Merce & The Muse, an East Village-hip coffee shop run by a young American expat in the upper Marais. Exacting about the quality of her beans (ordered from ) and the technique to brew them, she has attracted a loyal clientele who sit stylishly around the low communal table with a real latte (€4) and a homemade carrot muffin.
A refuge for coffee purists just across the river from the Ile Saint-Louis, La Caféothèque ("the coffee library") was created by Gloria Montenegro, a Guatemalan who prides herself on offering the world's finest coffees, imported in direct trade from small plantations. The beans are roasted daily in the big yellow roaster out front, filling the air with irresistible aromas, and are brewed by trained baristas, using an espresso machine from famed Florence maker .
• 52 rue de l'Hôtel de Ville, 4th, +33 1 5301 8384, lacafeotheque.com. Métro: Pont Marie
The stone walls and wooden floorboards at Café de la Nouvelle Mairie have borne witness to countless idealistic student conversations, close as it is to the Sorbonne, the lycée Henri IV and the Ecole Normale Supérieure. More recently, the sidewalk terrace that looks out on to a tiny square has become a gathering point for the artsy characters pouring out from the Universal Music offices across the street, and on the tables you're as likely to see cups of coffee as glasses of natural wine (starting from €4) from the well-curated chalkboard list.
• 19 rue des Fossés, 5th, +33 1 4407 0441. Métro: Cardinal Lemoine