Brrrrr, coffee in Brussels. I’m not sure I’m actually ready to open this particular can of worms. How about we just take a quick peep in then shut the lid really really fast? Yes, yes, I know you can’t really shut the lid on a can once you’ve opened it. FINE. We’ll decant the worms into a bowl, put some cling film on the top and shove it right to the back of the fridge where it will remain until it grows a fluffy layer of white mould. HAPPPY NOW?
So. Coffee is a fraught topic in Brussels. The city has a proud record in keeping Starbucks out (there are now two, only in the stations which I understand is a function of the current franchise conditions, so we shouldn’t see too much expansion in the near future) and goodness knows, I am no fan of the evil empire, because their coffee tastes like goat sick (I am extrapolating from limited contact with goat sick I have had) but Brussels? Wouldn’t it make sense if you could have some nice coffee as an alternative? Something you could point to, to say to Starbucks and its zombie hordes “look. This is our good coffee. We know coffee. And this why we don’t want anything to do with your gingerbread pumpkin rat bile venti skinny lattes here”.
Sadly, this is not currently the case. Good coffee is pitifully hard to come by in this city. As any tourist rapidly learns, to ask for a cappuccino in Brussels is a fraught affair, likely to end in tears and a close encounter with a squirty can of whipped cream. Black coffee, whilst safer, is as weak as gnat’s piss and not even the complimentary a tiny biscuit (an eminently civilised custom) can take away the sad, stewed taste of it.
There are a couple of exceptions and I plan to mention them in future posts. But there has been no comprehensive coffee revolution of the kind London has seen over the last twenty years, and no decent tradition of good strong traditional coffee like you get – differently – in France and Italy. So what do you do if you live here and you want to slake your poorly served caffeine cravings at home?
You could, of course, align yourself with that other, rival evil empire: Nespresso. I admit I have done this in the past. I am tainted, as a thousand ristretto capsules in a landfill somewhere bear witness. The coffee is ok, with a slight chemical aftertaste of capitulation and shame. Do you want to know if you should go with Nespresso? Just answer this simple quiz:
1. Do you like queueing?
2. Does logistical absurdity please and lull you into a state of compliant, infantile passivity?
3. Do you like the idea of belonging to an exclusive club with only a zillion members, the benefits of which are frankly impossible to perceive?
4. Would you enjoy drinking a complimentary limited edition chicory and speculoos flavoured coffee served by cold, dead eyed women, none of whom are George Clooney whilst you perch on an uncomfortable stool in a shiny black windowless space styled to within an inch of its life to ressemble Patrick Bateman’s flat viewed through the prism of corporate blandness, whilst a man next to you in a leather car coat and black turtle neck bellows into his phone to his mistress?
If the answer to questions 1-4 is ‘yes’, you should definitely go with Nespresso (yes, I know this can be avoided conveniently online, but I always felt I should expiate for my sin by making it inconvenient for myself and going to the shop, sorry “Club”).
If the answer is not yes, you could perhaps consider Corica.
Corica has been around forever (well, since 1991 – though actually the original proprietor’s family have been roasting coffee in Brussels since 1851), in one of the seedy streets of casinos and cheap rag trade outlets just south of the Grand Place. The idea is that there is a bar on one side where you can get any of the varieties of coffee they sell to drink in, then you could buy it to take home from the counter opposite. I have always wanted to love it, because it’s a nice idea and independent, and I like the serious, slightly male atmosphere of café au comptoir with no seating, but it wasn’t always easy because the coffee was .. meh. Ok. Nothing to write home about. Last year though, the old proprietor retired, and under new ownership, the place has blossomed, like Anna Friel after a vampire face lift (I don’t know where that came from, I’m very sleep deprived, the police raided my stupid neighbours at 4am). ANYWAY. It feels younger and friendlier, they’ve expanded the range of drink-in coffees they offer and the coffee seems, to my wholly inexpert palate, a lot better. I haven’t tried to drink in (I was double parked the last time I went), but in the interests of tireless research I promise to go back and try a – brrrrrrrr – cappuccino. Pray for me.
They also sell Michel Cluziel chocolate, tea and coffee pots and accessories, and a huge range of Kusmi teas – so beautiful! I buy a tin every couple of years, bowled over by their beauty and then forget to drink them because I only really like Yorkshire Gold and leaf tea is a massive faff. They can also recommend and sell you a coffee machine and their advice, generally, is excellent; friendly and knowledgable. Recently they recommended I try something called “Harar Horse Brand Longberrry Grade 5 Egyptian Wild Coffee” (I love this name. “Horse blend”) and very nice it is too. Really good. The cloying taste of Clooney Amaretto Shame Lungho has almost been banished from my palate.
Where do you go for coffee in Brussels?
Corica, 49 Marché aux Poulets
(Go now, before the municipal authorities decide to dig the street up AGAIN.)