Gérald Arek discovered the world of specialty coffee like many French people tend to do: while traveling in Australia. Upon his return he trained as a barista, and until he and his business partner Gaël Soucasse opened Matamata in Paris in the early fall of 2014, he could be seen pulling shots and keeping customers entertained with his bright attitude at Cafe Craft.
At Matamata, Arek and Soucasse want to help their customers discover the world of French coffee, which means that they are regularly rotating through roasters like Parisian favorites Cafe Lomi, Coutume, Belleville, and Brittany’s Caffe Cataldi.
Located near Les Halles, they’re right in the middle of a very busy and centrally located neighborhood, close to the famous restaurant street Rue Montorgueil, with many regulars coming by to grab a coffee on their way to work.
For the size of the kitchen, it’s impressive what they are able to make; Matamata’s cake and lunch offerings are all made in-house, using seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Thankfully winter is root vegetable season and you can be sure that the carrot cake is a best seller. On Saturdays you can come for brunch too.
The upstairs has much more of an espresso-bar feel than your average cafe. It’s the kind of place you can pop in for a quick drink and stand at the bar, reminiscent of other small spaces in town like Fondation and Ten Belles. In a city where space is limited, it’s no surprise that cafes like these keep popping up. Downstairs, however, they’ve turned the basement into an additional space: there is a large table, welcoming for bigger groups (the space can be reserved for private events) or people that want to sit and work for a bit. A couple of tables sit outside, and since the only thing that keeps Parisians from sitting outside—even in winter— is a rainy day, there are fleece blankets available for those who want to brave the cold.
Paris often gets the reputation of having bad and cranky service, though because the specialty coffee scene is young, it has managed to keep a very open and accepting attitude. As such, most coffee shops in town are run by people who believe in being friendly, breaking down many preconceptions of Parisian service. Arek and Soucasse are definitely examples of this friendly attitude, happy to chat about coffee—or anything else for that matter—and educate their consumers on the wide world of specialty coffee. No wonder they often use the hashtag #welovepeople.
Maybe that all comes from the Kiwi influence: Soucasse’s wife Leigh hails from New Zealand, from a small town for which Matamata is named. In Maori, the word means “summit”or “top.” And while opening a coffee shop isn’t the same as climbing a mountain, for the owners, Matamata is their own version of adventure—starting small, working their way up and building with passion.