Say the word "McDonald's" in France, and you're likely to incite a debate. Like, well, just about anything, the French are divided by their opinions about the fast-food. Traditionalists say restauration rapide (as they call it) erodes French culture; agricultural advocate Jose Bove once destroyed one in protest. Yet young French people flock to "McDo."
While in America, "McCafe" means little more than brown, printed coffee cups, McCafe in Europe is the coffee/pastries-only subsection of McDonald's, and it's an experience all its own. It lives in the land between Italian coffee shop and American quick service.
The main event at McCafe is the coffee. A clean and minted Cimbali machine pumps out espresso and steamed milk. And believe it or not, it's quite good. The macchiato resembles a small cappuccino instead of a true Italian macchiato (espresso "marked" with milk). But even through the foam and milk, you can taste thick, strong espresso, not something watered-down and weaker.
I paid 5 euro for a bad cappuccino in the 7th arrondisement that morning—it was nowhere near as good as the McCafe's macchiato.
McCafe has a range of confectionery treats to accompany your coffee: macarons, croissants, Pains au Chocolat, cupcakes, and tiramisu, to name a few.
The Brioche Sucre, a thick, sweetened egg bread, tastes something like a Panettone; it was fine, with nice sugary edges, but stale (easily fixed by dunking it in the coffee). Their Pain au Chocolat is surprisingly decent; it won't win any awards, but it's on par with those at many quick-service French kiosks. As for the macarons, they're tasty enough, but way too icing-based, with not much outer-shell crackle. In its defense, though, it's cheaper than what you'd find at many other patisseries.
The Cupcake Framboise was overloaded with icing and the cake was terrible. Skip them; they're overpriced.
Though McCafe is not the best European cafe experience, it's a pretty good standardization, and a great segue for Americans to European coffee. If you're in Europe for the first time, any cafe will give you sticker-shock and size-shock—everything is smaller and more expensive. McCafe is great for its American sizes and friendlier prices.
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