A taste of New Zealand in France

By Deborah Telford

Roz Morris and Sadry Abidi at Mokxa, their cafe in Lyon, France.
Roz Morris and Sadry Abidi at Mokxa, their cafe in Lyon, France.

Lyon may be the gastronomic heartland of France, but most visiting foodies will tell you it's a hard road finding a decent coffee there - let alone a perfect one.

Enter Kiwi woman Roz Morris James and her Lyonnais partner, Sadry Abidi, who are spearheading a slow but steady coffee revolution in France's second biggest city.

The couple own Cafe Mokxa, a tiny coffee and cake shop in Les Pentes de la Croix Rousse, an edgy, multicultural area in the first arrondissement of central Lyon.

Their 29sq m hole-in-the-wall is at the foot of the famous silk-weaving district and part of a large Unesco World Heritage site in Lyon, which straddles the Rhone and the Saone and boasts some of Europe's most beautiful Renaissance architecture.

Cafe Mokxa, which has taken on a cult status in Lyon, and has also become known in Paris and other parts of France, since it opened in April 2011. But success did not come overnight. "It took six months after we opened to establish our clientele," Morris says.

"The French did not understand what we were trying to do. I always joke that we had to train our customers."

The new-wave coffee movement had already taken hold in Paris when Cafe Mokxa opened, but the standard coffee still served in most French eateries is a watery black brew, often drunk with too much sugar to mask its bitterness, Morris says. Even a noisette - or short black with a dash of milk similar to a macchiato - is usually served with long-life milk in France, and a cappuccino often comes with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream, sprayed from a can.

France still has very few boutique coffee-roasters. Most coffee beans are roasted on an industrial scale, often kept for months before they are ground, and only a few coffee-roasters put the roasting date on their packets, Morris says.

Specialty beans, like those Cafe Mokxa uses, must be graded 85 points or higher on a 100-point scale, and can be traced back to individual growers. They cost 20 to 30 per cent more than the minimum wage paid for Fair Trade coffee, she says.

Morris met Abidi in 2006 in Barcelona where she worked at a business school and he had a job in IT. They decided to work in the coffee business after moving to New Zealand for six months in 2010. Since trying the coffee served at Matakana Coffee Roasters in Morris' hometown, where was she was working as a barista, Abidi has been a convert to good coffee.

When they moved to Lyon in mid-2010 they began hunting for premises, settling on a boarded-up former halal butchery shop that had been vacant for years.

The cafe's decor has an eclectic feel, with second-hand furniture and touches of New Zealand. Three young pastry chefs supply desserts that include cheesecake, pumpkin cake and home-style crumbles to go with Mokxa's filter-drip, pour over and Aero-pressed gentle-method coffees and the breakfast menu includes granola - with a photo - as many patrons have not heard of it.

The business now employs seven workers but Morris and Abidi say they have no plans to franchise and are more interested in educating people about coffee. "Instead of opening more cafes, we would like to roast more and keep training people and encourage them to open their own," says Morris. "We would actually welcome some competition."

- VIVA

* Deborah Telford flew to France with Emirates which flies five times a week from Dubai to Lyon with connections to its New Zealand services. The airline also flies to Paris and Nice.

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