Télescope Café is a small gem box tucked away on a cobbled street in Paris’s 1er Arrondissement. The location is close to some of the city’s most iconic tourist destinations, but when you enter Télescope, the atmosphere is calming, respectful and efficient. At the bar you’ll find owner Nicolas Clerc brewing coffee via aeropress and making espresso drinks on a gleaming machine with precision and care. These are served, to tourists and regulars alike, alongside slices of pad-of-butter-topped griddled banana bread, as they sit at small rounded tables or outside perched on benches and stools.
We talked with Nicolas about the first tastes that took him down the rabbit hole to specialty coffee, how a chance meeting at the market led to the opening of Télescope, and how he finds balance and connections in coffee and life.
Hi Nicolas! Can you tell us where you are located and what coffee you brewed for yourself this morning?
My coffee shop is in Paris. I'm in Jura this Sunday, and I've brewed myself an aeropress of a lovely Colombian coffee roaster by my dear Koppi.
We’d love to learn more about your path to the coffee industry. Is there one moment in particular that sparked your passion?
I guess in 2009, when Oliver Strand brewed me a Chemex of an Éthiopian coffee roaster by intelligentsia. The flavor was exceptional, the texture never experienced before. But what really caught me was the atmosphere in the specialty coffee world – international friendship, brewing lots and lots of methods, roasters and so on, and so many people making interesting blogs about their finds and publishing for free – like a skateboarder who’d find a new trick at the park.
Where did you spend time working, studying and honing your craft of coffee? What were some of the greatest lessons you learned along the way?
I’ve learned a lot in New York. When David Latourell ran the Intelligentsia office, I was sneaking in as often as they could bear me. That is where I learned the technical. On the practical, it was Sam Penix who kindly taught me his tricks at Everyman…those moments will stay forever in my memory.
When you are brewing a coffee or preparing an espresso drink, what elements of flavor are you looking for in the finished product?
I'm aiming for balance, trying to avoid technical mistakes, and letting the coffee speak for itself. Then sometimes, playing a bit with extraction, you’ll pull out some different characteristics of this coffee, but i don’t have a rule there.
When did you decide to open your own cafe, Télescope, and how did you choose its location in Paris’s 1er arrondissement?
The funny thing is that I wasn't really looking for opening a coffee shop, though I love the idea. But one day, I bumped into a real estate agent at a supermarket. I knew her, but didn’t know what to say, so i went “hello madame, how are you, one day I may be looking for a small place to open a coffee shop”. Her answer was “I only do apartments, but the neighbor is selling his place in the street’. Télescope was born – there was no way I could let this place go.
For someone who has never visited, how would you describe what it feels like to be inside of Télescope? What are the sights, sounds and smells?
I like it to be a break. A break from your daily grind, a break from your work, a break from Paris. Having a chill vibe, warm odors, and a lovely cup of coffee.
What have been some of your most favorite coffees to serve recently and how do you most like to prepare them in the cafe?
I love to work with Caffènation for the espresso. They are always strikingly aromatic, sharp and very steady. For the filter they are also doing a great job, but I can't help working with other friends like Koppi, Tim Wendelboe, The Coffee Collectif, Supreme Roastworks…
Your cafe is not only known for its delicious coffee, but also for the menu of both savory and sweet food offerings. How do you choose what to serve alongside coffee and espresso drinks and what are some of your favorite combinations?
This is a long topic. I guess I'm trying to find a balance between what people desire, and what I find delicious. I know you’d say “only go for what you think is delicious, and people will follow,” but I got fed up having so much unsold at the end of days, so I make cookies, and lemon polenta cake, but I try to make them perfectly, and with the greatest ingredients.
Finally, when you are not spending your day brewing coffee and engaging with your customers, how do you like to spend your time?
I spend time in vines!
I wish I could spend more time in coffee fields, but as I'm not a roaster, it doesn’t make sense, and in France vines are all around. So I learn a lot of agricultural practices there, and maybe one day, it’ll take me to coffee fields.