Paris is often seen as a city with quintessential European street café culture with a café on almost every corner, and a row of tables out on the streets. Indeed, Paris has a rich café culture with a long history, although according to authors of Paris Coffee Revolution*, Anna Brones and Jeff Hargoves, until recently the city has been considered a ‘terrible coffee capital’ (p.4) – as explored by Oliver Strand in the New York Times article ‘Why is coffee in Paris so bad?’.
Paris Coffee Revolution is an exploration into the development of specialty coffee in Paris. The book takes the reader through a history of café and coffee culture in Paris, before considering how it is beginning to be transformed into a leader in European cities for its specialty coffee offering. This is done through discussions with various important people who have driven the specialty coffee scene in Paris, including , Gloria Montenegro of La Caféothèque, Hippolyte Courty of L’Arbre à Café, and Aleaume Paturle of Café Lomi.
‘People who devoted themselves to the craft of coffee, and in turn, be it conscious or not, were part of kickstarting the revolution that we see taking place today’ (p.5).
As the book points out, it’s not a guidebook to specialty coffee in Paris, but instead a discussion of how the Parisian approach to coffee is being transformed; how a ‘revolution’ is taking place. It explains how cafés and restaurants became locked into to serving industrially produced coffee, and until recently how coffee was almost afterthought for Parisian café dwellers. Cafés were (and are) important spaces to gather, but previously the café experience was more important than the drink itself.
‘The Parisian coffee revolution has been as much about serving good coffee as it has been about educating people on why they should care about what’s in the cup in front of them. It has required completely retraining the French coffee palate, and that is no simple task’ (p.12).
Driven by the passion of a number of individuals:
‘There is also craftsmanship in the world of the new Parisian roasters, and there is craftmanship in the in shots that are pulled by a barista behind the espresso machine. The change in the Parisian coffee scene has happened through the ebb and flow of the world of many people, their influences intersecting and overlapping’ (p.26).
Gloria Montenegro, the founder of Caféothèque (a café, roaster and training centre) is described as the ‘mother’ of the Paris coffee scene, not only providing one of the first specialty coffee destinations in the city, but a place that has trained many of the people who have moved on to be a part of the Paris coffee scene in their own right. As the book explores, Montenegro wanted to not only change ‘what people were drinking, but make sure that they were aware of what they were drinking’ (p.64), as many pioneering people in the specialty coffee industry have sought to do around the world.
The book explores the challenges of developing a specialty coffee business in Paris in the early years, and how it has required an element of education for consumer, but also the potential for specialty coffee to really take off in a city not only through cafes but through restaurants and bistros too: after all Paris is famed for its high-quality food and wine, why not coffee too? And in fact, some of the people working in Parisian specialty coffee have a history in the wine and food industry, such as Hippolyte Courty who founded L’Arbre à café. As Courty explains in the book ‘coffee entrepreneurs will have to work to get the food world embracing a more quality product that what they are currently used to serving’ (p.121).
There are many important figures and cafés in the development of the Parisian specialty coffee scene explored in this book, and they all have the common motivation to improve the quality of coffee in the city, driven by a passion for good coffee and craftsmanship. As the book points out:
‘This community had been an essential component of growing the Parisian coffee scene. For good coffee to flourish, you don’t just need the coffee, you need the community that makes it, drinks it, and is excited about it’ (p.68), and ‘just like with many craftsmen and craftswomen around the world, its not about the money, it’s about the work. As coffee drinkers, that’s an important thing to be thankful for, because passion is entirely driven the Parisian specialty coffee market forward, without it we would all be stuck with the undrinkable, over extracted, bitter espresso that Paris was once known for’ (p.89).
After examining different facets of the specialty coffee scene in Paris, the book looks to the future to consider challenges for the future of specialty coffee in the city including: the number of trained baristas, the need for more roasters, and the need to engage bistros and restaurants in serving specialty coffee, and the need for the spread of specialty coffee to be present in more neighbourhoods for example. But the book remains positive that ‘in fact, the coffee revolution in Paris is indicative of a larger cultural change that’s giving birth to a new generation of artisans challenging Parisian to think differently’ and ‘if the last decade has taught us anything, how the Paris specialty coffee industry moved forward will not be dictated by larger forces, it will continue to be work of passion and craft, constantly evolving thanks to the people that pour their heart and souls into work that makes them feel good’ (p.145). The specialty coffee industry in Paris will certainly be one to watch in the future.
*The book is available in English and French.