General Question

Cartman's avatar

What's up with the bread and coffee in the US?

Asked by Cartman (3032 points ) September 30th, 2009

I’ve traveled a bit and find that the bread in France is superior to bread from the US – even bread baked by the French in the US in the proper manner.

The same goes for Italian coffee. I have not been able to find to find anyone who can produce faithful reproductions this side of the Atlantic.

Why is this? Could it be the water? Am I the only one who have this experience?

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34 Answers

gussnarp's avatar

It could be the water. It could also be the wild yeasts in the air as far as the bread is concerned.

JLeslie's avatar

NYC has some good bread, but many places in America suck. Where I live now, Memphis, it’s ridiculously bad for all bakery products including cookies and cakes. I think if you are in cities with lots of Jews and Italians you can usually get good bread.

eponymoushipster's avatar

Tastes vary.

simone54's avatar

It’s actually the same deal between the Philadelphia area and the west coast.

mrentropy's avatar

What’s wrong with Wonder Bread and Sanka?

CMaz's avatar

“if you are in cities with lots of Jews and Italians”

Being an Italian from NY I concur.

Cartman's avatar

I don’t mean that there is no good bread in the US, just wondering why it seems impossible to make it the same (for better or worse).

SpatzieLover's avatar

Milwaukee has some damned good bread & even better hard rolls. It depends on what region of our country you visit, just as it’d matter what region of your country we’d visit.

We have a lot of German’s to influence our baking styles here.

In other areas, where more Italians are present, the coffee ROCKS!

BTW-We have many cheeses that blow the offerings from France to shreds.

erichw1504's avatar

It could just be in your mind. The experience of being in the country where they make great bread could heighten your senses for its food.

JLeslie's avatar

Just to concur with @SpatzieLover basically any ethnic European density helps. The Polish in Detroit make good bread too. The “Jews” in America tend to appreciate good bread because they are from Germany, Poland, etc. It is really about the country more than anything.

J0E's avatar

It’s probably because you’re not in France.

JLeslie's avatar

@erichw1504 I disagree, it is not in @Cartman mind. The bread in Italy and France is not to be believed. Amazing.

eponymoushipster's avatar

Water, air, elevation, types of ingredients, etc. – it all plays a role.

gussnarp's avatar

There’s a reason San Fransisco is known for it’s sourdough bread. The wild yeasts in that area create a particular kind of bread. This can be true anywhere, different yeast produce different bread. European’s have been baking bread for a very long time and many places have good strains of quality yeast. An old French bakery is probably chock full of wild yeast. On the other hand, an American bakery probably had to import their first yeasts or buy some standard yeast, and they just don’t have the same quality. I’m no baking or yeast expert, but that’s my understanding of the issue. Of course, there is no yeast in coffee…

Cartman's avatar

@eponymoushipster a baguette is a baguette is a baguette where ever I’m in France (elevation or not) but the, miraculously, when I leave a baguette is no more a baguette.

@erichw1504 maybe

Harp's avatar

Bread is incredibly technical. Minute variables in technique, ingredients, and equipment matter hugely. In France, not only are bakers trained from a very young age by other extremely experienced bakers, but there is a huge technical support network provided by the flour mills and equipment manufacturers. Mills supply bakers with flour blends specially formulated for specific results. In addition, bread is sold very fresh and usually without ever having been packaged.

Things are getting much better in the States, though. An American team won the 2002 World Cup of baking held in France. One of the members of that team, Rory Downer, runs a bakery here in my town and his bread is easily as good as the best French breads (and I lived in France for many years), so it can be done.

Still, most of the bread here is being produced by bakers with very little training, and who have little direct personal experience with the styles of bread they’re trying to emulate. They think that if they follow a baguette recipe, roll the dough long and slash it, then they’ve made a baguette, but that’s not at all true.

eponymoushipster's avatar

@Cartman dude, then go to france and enjoy it. overanalyzing it doesn’t make anything taste better or worse.

JLeslie's avatar

To pick up on @Harp statement. They don’t have the experience or exposure to make good bread in certain cities so they keep making the same crap. Hell, at our Target I can buy Einstien Bagels, I know New Yorkers will be horrified, but that is the best I can find in Memphis. Meanwhile, at this Target the bagels are proofed (I think that is the word) too long and they look all puffy, and when you cut them open there are air bubbles all throughout. I cut one open in front of the manager and she didn’t see the problem, no offense to anyone but she was a young southern girls, probably never travelled far outside of Memphis. I told her that it is a bagel not an English muffin, it shouldn’t have nooks and crannies, but she replied that her district manager from Atlanta says they are fine.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I think there’s less of an appreciative market here for those things. Most Americans seem to be quite happy with their over-processed sliced bread and Folger’s coffee. I don’t know if it’s a cost thing, I know at least part of it is an exposure thing, but most folks not living in a city have a hard time finding decent artisanal bread, or locally-roasted coffee.

drdoombot's avatar

Growing up in the home of Soviet immigrants, my parents always complained about how bad the bread is (and this is NYC!). In the late 80’s and early 90’s, when tens of thousands of immigrants from Central Asia flooded into my area, the quality of the bread rose exponentially.

janbb's avatar

Following Harp’s comments, I was just reading Julia Child’s My Life in France and she talks about the difficulty of trying to replicate baguette making in the USA. She says that the French flour is milled differently, as Harp says, and produces different effects. This was 30 years ago and French cooking has improved in the States (largely because of her), but the basic principle is still the same. I concur with what others have said about the best other breads being in areas where there is a greater concentration of people of that ethnicity.

Darwin's avatar

We have a bakery here in town that is run by a couple from Lyons, France. He was trained by his father and grandfather to bake bread, and she was trained to make pastries by her family. Their bread and pastries are wonderful. My father, who has been to France, says their bread is equal to that in France.

All of the other bakeries in town produce something they call “French bread” that bears absolutely no resemblance at all to the bread our favorite bakery makes. OTOH, a bakery in one particular store of a local grocery chain makes really, really good Jalapeno-Cheese Bread. It is supposed to be the same thing made by the bakeries in all of the stores, but they just don’t compare to the bread produced by this one guy.

We also now buy homemade bread from a woman in her church. Her family owns an organic wheat farm in Nebraska and mills their own flour. She has them send that to her for her own bread. It is very good bread, but not at all French.

Judi's avatar

In the US we like our bread fresh. Wait a week before you eat a good loaf of bread from here and it might taste like it came from Europe.
San Francisco Sour dough is in a whole class by itself though.
The most European type coffee I have found is in the small coffee shops of the Pacific Northwest.

JLeslie's avatar

@Judi Huh? Wait a week?

Judi's avatar

I was in Germany and the hotel had these great pretzels cooking. I wanted one of the hot fresh pretzels but couldn’t communicate it!! Fresh bread is not as coveted there as it is here and the poor guy just couldn’t understand what I was asking for, and I couldn’t say fresh and Hot in German. I ate a pretzel that was at least three or 4 days old. :-(
A week might be to long, but sough stale bread seemed to be considered a delicacy.

JLeslie's avatar

My grandfathers family had a bakery and they went to work at o’dark hundred to make fresh bread for the day. They were from Europe. I’m guessing the bakery you were at don’t serve it hot, but 3 or 4 days old would very much surprise me. I’m just saying I am surprised, I am not saying you are wrong.

Judi's avatar

A week is probably an exaggeration. 3 or 4 days is probably more like it.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

it’s more commercialized. drag the quality down to make it a few cents cheaper to make… american capitalism welcomes you.

Darwin's avatar

One thing is that when true French bread is hot, you cannot slice it. You can buy a hot loaf of bread to take home, but you can only tear hunks off it until it is cool enough for the crust to be firm enough that the loaf won’t flatten when you try to slice it.

Our local French bakery sells no bread until 12 noon for that reason. However, they do have wonderful pastries and great coffee available before that, and the day-old loaves sometimes are still available.

gussnarp's avatar

@Judi that is just not accurate, IMHO, European style bread is meant to be eaten the day it is baked. After 3 to 4 days it would be like eating a rock, especially if it has been cut. Pretzels are a junk food snack anywhere, so they aren’t treated like bread.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@gussnarp – That has been my experience, also. In both France and Italy, they savor their fresh bread. And unless you freeze it for some later date, it would be rock hard. :)

Harp's avatar

French bakeries bake in two batches, one ( starting at about 2:00 AM) for the morning crowd buying bread for breakfast and lunch, and another (during the 1:00— 4:00 PM closing) for the evening crowd buying for dinner. Baguette especially stales very quickly, so it’s really only at its best for half a day after baking.

EmpressPixie's avatar

Let me premise this by saying that I’ve been to Europe and it was in part what got me started looking for better bread in the US. I just didn’t know that bread could be more than it was—I mean, sure, I knew fresh was better than store-weeks-old-presliced stuff, but that was about it.

Having said that, just about everywhere I’ve lived has been able to make some damn tasty bread. The bread in Richmond—from a little french bakery in Carytown—was not as good. The bread I found in Chicago was simply amazing. One shop made a fruit and nut loaf that was the best breakfast bread and bread pudding bread I have ever, ever had. The other shop we used made bread for slicing and it was simply fabulous. Some of the best bread I’d ever had at all. The bread here in Pittsburgh comes from Allegro Hearth, a local bakery, and it was so good I told my fiance or his roommate (I forget which) that I’d actually found bread to beat out the Chicago bread.

While these breads aren’t what I think of as tradional French styles of bread, that’s also not what I was looking for. The one time I did get a baguette from Bennison’s (the fruit-nut folks) it was great, but that’s just not my favorite style of bread.

I will now admit that both Pittsburgh and Chicago are noted for large Jewish and Polish populations. And both places had Kosher breads.

Re: coffee, again it just depends on where you are. There should be a local roaster wherever you are that makes a fine coffee. If they make an Italian roast, it is probably worth checking out. My personal favorite roaster is Metropolis in Chicago. They do a French roast and an Italian roast. I like their other coffees so much that I never quite got around to trying those.

eponymoushipster's avatar

@EmpressPixie lurve for metropolis. i wonder if we were ever there at the same time and didn’t even know it!?

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