I have a perfect new hangout in Arles - a salon du thé called Le Calendal which overlooks the amphitheatre (where we saw the legendary Lou Reed live in concert last night. ) It has three major attractions: it has free wi-fi (pronounced, endearingly, wee-fee by the French), air-conditioning and a great drinks list which includes teas from Mariage Frères and a range of ‘sirops’ which are like adult squashes.
My daughter Jo and I are working our way through the list. So far we’ve tried the citron (lemon), framboise (raspberry), rose (Jo’s favourite) and fraise (strawberry) which is mine. All have beautifully clean, natural fruit flavours that it strikes me would be great with (and in) desserts. For example you could drink a strawberry sirop, which you dilute with chilled natural or sparkling water, with creamy desserts such as panna cotta or cheesecake served with fresh strawberries and it would pick out and enhance the strawberry flavour. Rose would be good with strawberries too. You could also serve them topped up with sparkling wine, Champagne or - even better I suspect - Prosecco.
The other day I tried a poppy flavoured-syrup (coquelicot) which I found, believe it or not, in a motorway service area (French service stations always have local, artisanal food and drink products on sale). It was an exquisitely pretty pink but had a curious, slighly medicinal taste that takes a little getting used to. I’m going to try it in a sorbet.
What I like about these drinks is that although they’re sweet they’re much lighter and more refreshing than fruit juices. And offer all sorts of interesting possibilities with food.
The other French soft drink I love (and am drinking right now in the Place du Forum - the one Van Gogh painted in his classic café night scene) is a citron pressé - freshly squeezed lemon juice that comes on a tray with a jug of water and a sugar shaker for you to sweeten to taste. I hate to rub it in when the temperature in London is 16°C compared to 28°C here but it's another great hot weather drink.