Parisian Café Culture in the City of Light
Paris has a rich history of café culture. The first Parisian cafes started to appear in the late 1600’s. Can you imagine the alluring aroma of the strange new Coffea Arabica Beans from the Kingdom of Kaffa roasting? This must have been an amazing new exotic fragrance wafting in the streets of Paris!
This was the time of the Early Renaissance, where there were new discoveries of products as people travelled and there were shifts in the way people thought. Different classes of people started to emerge, including merchants and bankers. Trade and travel were in the process of great change with the new materials in the early stages of becoming lucrative commodities. Artisans had exciting new materials to work with. The avant-garde Coffea Arabic Beans from the Kingdom of Kaffa were becoming the new liquid black gold we know as coffee today!
Coffee was first imported by Venetian merchants via Marseille. In the Arabian world, coffee houses had always been a popular gathering place for men and had flourished for hundreds of years earlier in the Ottoman Empire.
Montmartre image from WIX media
The first coffee house to open in the Paris Commune was Café Procope in 1698. It was the first shop to sell coffee that was not from a street cart. However, it was it was not the beverage itself that drew its customers but the community it created. Early cafes were a place where people could meet to discuss ideas, regardless of class or status. In those times, alcohol was served in cafes and they could become very disorderly establishments! Women were, in fact, barred from cafes in those early days.
Cafes and coffee culture would continue to flourish in Paris and percolated its way into all parts of society – even to this day. Parisian cafes would attract influential people such as actors, writers, artists, poets, free-thinkers and political figures. By the mid 1800’s, the city of Paris was illuminated by people with enlightened and, most likely, caffeinated minds. It was also physical light from electric streetlamps from 1860 that illuminated the Paris streets, making Paris become known as the “City of Light”!
Gargouyle statute image from WIX media
The history of Parisian tea rooms is just as fascinating. It is a tale that is entwined with the history of the Ladurée family. In late 1862, a baker from France’s southwest, Louis Ernest Ladurée, who was also an outspoken activist & writer opened a bakery in Madeline - a district of the Paris Commune City. This was where artisans who made luxury wares were to be found. In those revolutionary days, parts of this district were burnt down; the Ladurées were not put off by this. On the contrary, it led to their vision of reopening a patisserie on Rue Royale.
It was Louis' wife, Jeanne Bouchard, who created the fusion of the now quintessential Parisian café with her idea of serving coffee, tea & pastry. Their new Ladurée shop reopened in 1871. It was one of the first tea rooms in town! The ”salon de thé” had a distinct advantage over cafés: women could gather in complete freedom. This was where the concept of tea rooms emerged.
The famous Ladurée macaron was created in 1930 by Louis Ladurée’s younger cousin Pierre Desfontaines, who first thought of making the fusion of two macaron shells & joining them with a delicious ganache filling. It was Queen Catherine di’ Medici who brought the Macaron to France in the 16th century, however that is the beginning of another tale to tell in a future blog journey.
Ladurée pastry photo by Gai Bushby ©
Five Iconic Parisian Cafe Experiences
Parisian café culture began at this iconic cafe, located in the 6th arrondissement, in the heart of Saint-Germain. It’s the oldest café in Paris, some of its most famous patrons have been Napoleon Bonaparte, Voltaire Rousseau & Benjamin Franklin.
LA MAISON ROSE
Located in Montmartre, you seem to stumble on a gorgeous pink house on the corner of a cobblestoned street. You may recognise it from the painting “La Maison Rose” by artist Maurice Utrillo . It is one of the best cafes in the 18th arrondissement. It has a small menu based on fresh, seasonal, eco-conscious produce, inspired by French-farm-to table cuisine.
CAFÉ DE FLORE
Located on the Left Bank in the heart of Saint Germain, originally it was a café famous for literary meetings & philosophical debates. These days it is one of the most romantic & "instagramable" places in Paris as it is adorned with fresh flowers on the Left Bank of the Seine River.
Photo by Bastien Nvs from WIX media
Located at Rue de Rivoli, you must try the signature pastry "Mont-Blanc Rue de Rivoli" & the famous hot chocolate, reputed to be the best hot chocolate in the world!
LADURÉE Champs-Élysées & Rue Royale
There are two beautiful locations to experience Ladurée Parisian patisserie & tea rooms at 75 Avenue des Champs-Élysées & the original Rue Royale. Such a joy to discover a sumptuous selection of macarons, chocolates, pastries & cakes, all to be enjoyed in the luxurious setting with fine tea & coffee. The famous macarons come in the most beautiful colours & amazing flavours including rose, cherry blossom tea, coconut lime, vanilla, strawberry poppy, passion fruit, orange blossom, raspberry, pistachio & Marie-Antoinette tea.
Ladurée shop photo by Gai Bushby ©
How wonderful it is that right around the world cafe culture has flourished. It has truly created such a wonderful aspect of society & jobs worldwide in the hospitality industry.
It is always serendipitous for me to find a new favourite cafe. It is where I use my nose to discover that alluring fragrance of coffea Arabica aroma from the ancient Kingdom of Kaffa merging with the fragrance of freshly baked artisan pastry treats wafting down an illuminated alleyway.