While Paris has become the focus of France’s specialty coffee scene, slowly but surely there are notable cafes popping up around the country, all helping to develop an ever-growing French specialty coffee identity.
One of these places is Café Bretelles, opened in March 2014. It’s Strasbourg’s only specialty focused cafe, and in the time that it has been opened, it has developed a devoted local following, so much so that its owner is soon opening up a second location.
Owner Olivier Wernert didn’t come from a coffee background, but when he saw a program on coffee shops in New York City, he was inspired. Working in auditing, he kept joking to his colleague, “I’m sick of work, I’m going to quit and open up a coffee shop.” Eventually the joke became reality and he quit his job to throw himself into the launch of Café Bretelles, a coffee shop that is focused on serving quality coffee in a relaxed atmosphere.
Wernert was inspired by the American cafes which he had learned about, “I thought, that’s cool… places focused on quality but accessible to everyone.”
That is exactly the vibe that he has tried to create, allowing his clientele to learn about specialty coffee without feeling overwhelmed. This is important in a market which until now had very little, if any, experience with specialty coffee. Wernert says that he avoids serving blends, because using single origins makes it easier to explain the coffees to clients when they ask about them. “It allows things to be simple, more honest.”
Clients have the usual selection of espresso drinks, but Café Bretelles also puts an importance on manual brewing, allowing people to choose their brew method—V60, Chemex, AeroPress, and syphon—and the origin of their beans.
Coffee is sourced from Cafe Mokxa in Lyon, but Café Bretelles also has a rotating list of guest roasters, like Caffe Cataldi, Coutume, and Drop Coffee. Next month they will be featuring Denmark’s Coffee Collective. Knowing that it might be a client’s first time experiencing specialty coffee, he says that “we always try to get single origin coffees that are distinct.” The cafe will usually have the same coffee served for espresso for two to three months, and Wernert says that his regular clientele definitely notices the difference when they change, which assures him that people are not just appreciating what they are drinking, but understanding it as well.
As a space, Café Bretelles feels cozy and warm, not overly designed, simply welcoming and authentic. There’s even a box next to the cash register with regular customer cards. When I ask Wernert about this feeling of the space he says, “that’s the atmosphere we wanted to create.” All the work in the interior was done by Wernert (he built the tables himself), his staff and friends, and this creates an authentic ambience—something that I also felt at CREAM in Paris, another cafe built with a lot of love and elbow grease. As he puts it, “if you buy everything premade, you see that it’s industrial, and often, everyone has the same thing… I made things myself because I wanted it to be distinct.”
Wernert is very aware that in France, “coffee shops are very trendy right now,” and he admits that a “huge problem is the term ‘coffee shop’—anyone can use it.” He wants to ensure that as the trend grows, he continues to be committed to quality, so that his coffee shop is a good representation of what a specialty cafe really should be. In that spirit, he is opening up a second location in March, to correspond with Café Bretelles’ one-year anniversary. It will have a different name and a completely different ambience. “The idea is to have two distinct identities… to not just copy and paste,” says Wernert. That means Strasbourg will soon have a new specialty coffee hub to add to its list, with the same coffee offerings and the same baked goods, most notably Wernert’s homemade twix bar. Trust me, if you ever visit Café Bretelles you need to order this. Like Wernert says, “chocolate and caramel work well for everyone.” Unless of course you aren’t human.
Looking to the future of cafes in Strasbourg, Wernert is sure that there are more specialty coffee shops to come. “I would like at least one more, because competition is good,” says Wernert, “you just hope that there won’t be too many who just call themselves a ‘coffee shop.’”