The Paris Coffee Revolution

A new book shows how specialty coffee is revolutionizing the traditional cafes in Paris.

In a small side street in the former working class district of Belleville you find the Brûlerie de Belleville. The Parisian micro-roastery is small in size, but big on flavor. The place is considered one of the best when it comes to specialty coffee.
– I love serving filtered coffee. It is so full of flavors and so varied.
Barista Albin Durand talks enthusiastically as he pours brewing water into a filter holder. You can just forget about ordering latte or macchiato. There is neither milk nor snacks here. Nothing should interfere with the experience of clean filtered coffee and freshly ground espresso.
-The Parisians are increasingly aware of specialty coffee. We have noticed a big change since we started up in 2013, says Sera Onalan, the other barista who works here today.

The independent roastery for specialty coffee delivers their coffee to a number of outlets in Paris. They are open to the public only on Saturdays for the sale of coffee and coffee equipment. Brûlerie de Belleville is owned by coffee duo Thomas Lehoux and David Flynn (founders of Ten Belles and Teléscope). They decided early on that they would take the coffee a step further. Here they have full control over the entire process and roast the coffee beans using their own recipes.

Slow going
The market for specialty coffee is really growing in Paris. But the city was lagging behind for a long time, writes journalist and author Anna Brones in her new book Paris Coffee Revolution. While the third coffee wave hit several large cities at the beginning of the 2000’s, Brones talk about 2013 as the redemptive year in the French metropolis. Today, the trend is evolving quickly, also outside of Paris. Brones and photographer Jeff Hargrove portray a tough bunch that in the last ten years have put a lot of effort into introducing new coffee to the Parisians. It has not been particularly easy to change their coffee habits.

Seige Parisians 
Coffee lovers said it early, it’s impossible to find good coffee in Paris. In a city with so much good food and wine! As late as 2005 La Caféothèque opened, the first cafe for specialty coffee in Paris. In 2010 coffee journalist Oliver Strand spoke out with the New York Times article “Why is Coffee in Paris So Bad?“. Finally it became a debate about something that coffee geeks had long known. Today the coffee stage is different. But the number of places for specialty coffee in Paris are still surprisingly few compared to its size, writes Brones.

Old palates are hard to break 
Traditionally the Parisians have roasted their beans too long and used them long after they were no longer fresh- in perhaps the world’s largest cafe city. The bitter taste sits deep inside for several reasons. Ever since the colonial times the Parisians have used robusta beans and they have grown accustomed to the bitter taste. Coffee retailers have also contributed to this. They have provided restaurants and bistros with industrial coffee for years. With free inventory, equipment and coffee machines they have ensured loyalty to their own coffee brands. Another important reason lies in the attitudes of the Parisians: le petit noir has simply never been put on a pedestal. Good wine and good food, yes! But the coffee? Never mind, just pour in a ton of sugar until it becomes drinkable. On the other hand: this city does not lack café culture. But cafes as a meeting point have been far more important than what you drink. The coffee has just been accepted as it is.

Ready for the revolution?
The coffee entrepreneurs interviewed in the book have invested heavily in public education, in terms of creating a culture of handcrafted coffee and new flavors. Talking coffee up to a gourmet level has been important. Brulerie de Belleville holds cupping classes on Saturdays.
– We have full houses and the appetite for new varieties is growing. Now we are introducing far more fruity and acidic tastes than before, says Sera.
Consumers are important. If more like specialty coffees, they will also ask for it. Then bistros and restaurants will have to replace their range. Only then can the real revolution happen.

French language 
Adaptation to the Parisian taste is important. At an early stage they understood that the comparison with wine was essential. The significance of climate, terrain and soils are something wine drinking Parisians understand. Café Lomi has launched coffees with flavors of Bordeaux and Burgundy. They have also taken an entirely conscious choice of what kind of coffee they serve: filtered coffee – jus de chausette. Most Parisians are used to filtered coffee from home. It has always been there but has decreased in popularity (hence the name sock-juice). By breathing new life into it, they also provide people with the opportunity to discover their own traditions anew. It has also become easier to sell fresh coffee, since Parisians generally have discovered the quality of natural, organic and local produce. Today, you no longer have to say that Paris is missing specialty coffees.
– Five-six years ago it was probably hard to find good coffee here, yes, but not now. Today you can obtain good and bad coffee, just as you can have good and bad quiche. We have everything in this town. I am very optimistic for the future. Our goal is that every Parisians should taste a cup of coffee with us, it is not unrealistic, smiles Durand.

For more on the coffee revolution check out the book: Paris Coffee Revolution by Anna Brones and Jeff Hargrove (photograps) éditions les noveaux artisians 2015.

10 places to go for good coffee in Paris:

  1. Brûlerie de Belleville. 10 rue Pradier.
  2. Ten Belles. Perfectly located just off the funky Canal Saint-Martin. 10 Rue de la Grange aux Belles
  3. Le Bal Café. Good coffee and an anglo fare. 6 Impasse de la Défense
  4. The Caféothèque. Where the coffee revolution in Paris first kicked off. 52 Rue de l’Hôtel de ville
  5. Coffee and high quality food, made daily from fresh ingredients. 19 rue Lucien Sampaix
  6. Café Lomi. Hight ceilinged space, cozy coach and an institution in a diverse neighborhood. 3 ter rue Marcadet
  7. One of the first new wave coffee shops that roasted their own beans. 47 Rue de Babylone
  8. L´Arbre à Café shop. In probably the most gastronomic street in the city. Also have wine tastings. 10 rue du Nil.
  9. Cafe Coutume Instituutti. Good coffee in a Scandinavian inspired environment. 60 rue des Écoles,
  10. Télescope. Handful of chairs and range of sweet and savory treats. 5 rue Villedo.

1 Comment

  • Andrew says:

    Hi Ingunn,

    My partner and I are returning to Paris late this July and I’m already making a list of coffee shops to check out. Your article is fantastic. I found a link to it on La Cafeotheque’s facebook page.

    What is the name of the café on spot 5 on your list, is that Holybelly?



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