With bright, white walls and staff in white smocks, you might think you stepped up to the cosmetics counter at the nearby Macy’s. But this is true of all the Cafe Madeleine bakery-cafés in the area. Inside they have just a few counter stools along the windows. But when the weather complies, the sidewalk café tables outside are in higher demand.

Inside you will also face a wide selection of colorful pastries and other pâtisserie items. And you’ll often be scanning them while old chanson française music plays overhead. I’ve even comically overheard some of the employees comment on how the music only haunts them after they’ve left work. (Me? I love a good Joséphine Baker or Édith Piaf tune… though I do have a strange obsession with Maurice Chevalier, secrets about his sexual orientation aside.)

Entrance to Cafe Madeleine on O'Farrell St. Cafe Madeleine's translucent display of tarts

Using their three-group Mr. Espresso Faema E91 Diplomat machine (though they typically use only two or even one group), they first produced an espresso with a very thin and very dark crema. But from 2003 to 2004 their crema became marginally richer and more dense with a healthy medium brown color. By 2004, their espresso reached its peak: with a full body and a strong, deep, complex herbal flavor with some tobacco tones.

Since then, the flavor has muted a bit — tasting a little weaker and less bold. The body has also dropped off from something full and syrup-like to something decent and yet more watery. The cup can still sometimes run from an early bitter edge that gives way to sweeter, syrup-like notes towards the bottom of the cup. And it’s a paper cup. Cafe Madeleine’s paper cups only policy is about as elegantly très Français as eating duck confit with a plastic spork. What are they thinking?!

In April 2006 they closed briefly for a remodel, but you would hardly notice it — they largely changed countertops along the windows and some other small details.

Read the updated review.

The Cafe Madeleine espresso: in a paper cup and on the pre-remodel counter