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The socio-cultural history of the Pousse Café. Part 3: Coffee culture in France


After learning more about the consumption of coffee in the Orient and in Paris from Hanna Diyāb, we now take a closer look at the arrival of oriental customs in Paris. The Ottoman ambassador and certainly the French king, who cultivated coffee plants in Versailles, played an important role in this.

The arrival of oriental customs

Coffee was enjoyed even before there were public coffee houses. In France, the first coffee is said to have been brought to Marseilles in 1644, [18-87] 1654 [17-8] or 1660; [14-29] in Venice, for example, it was already being drunk in 1615. [17-8] But coffee must have been available in France before that. As we showed in the previous post, coffee was already being drunk in Paris before that, under Louis XII, king from 1610 to 1643.

Coffee also brought oriental customs and habits to France. [10-12] Initially, only a few people consumed coffee, which was imported in minimal quantities. [10-13] Also in the rest of Europe, the general consumption of coffee only became common in the middle of the 17th century. [14-30]

The first coffee houses were also built in Europe in the middle of the 17th century, namely in Amsterdam in 1645, [11-10] 1647 in Venice, [2] 1650 in Oxford, [2] 1652 in London, [2] [7-363] 1671 in Marseille, [2] [14-29] 1671 at the latest in Paris [19-23] (although we believe it was much earlier), and 1673 in Bremen. [2] However, other dates can also be found. So it does not seem to be entirely clear. The exact year is perhaps not entirely important. What is important is that in those years coffee houses were not only present in the Ottoman Empire, but also spread throughout Europe. [8]

The ambassador of Mehmed IV

In 1669, some also write 1670, the Ottoman ambassador Suleiman Aga arrived at the court of Louis XIV. [10-17] [12]  [26] Court society loved novelties, and so the smallest actions and gestures of the ambassador were observed with the utmost attention. [10-17] [10-18]

Soon after his arrival, the ambassador began receiving guests and serving them coffee. Soon the whole of Paris was talking about his splendid coffee parties. [5] [6-91] [13-65] People were enthusiastic about things from the Orient, Parisian society took a liking to coffee, it quickly became their favorite drink, and they continued to drink coffee even after the ambassador’s departure. [5] [10-17] [10-18] [14-30] [18-88] Jean Leclant describes it this way: “After his departure, all those who had been granted the inestimable privilege of being received by him considered it a point of honour to offer guests a taste of the drink that everyone was talking about. And so, throughout noble society, it gradually became the fashion to serve coffee when receiving guests. Soon the bourgeoise also wanted to sample the new flavor. [18-88]

Later, the receptions were described with the words: “On bended knee, the black slaves of the Ambassador, arrayed in the most gorgeous Oriental costumes, served the choicest Mocha coffee in tiny cups of egg-shell porcelain, hot, strong and fragrant, poured out in saucers of gold and silver, placed on embroidered silk doylies fringed with gold bullion, to the grand dames, who fluttered their fans with many grimaces, bending their piquant faces — be-rouged, be-powdered and be-patched — over the new and steaming beverage. [6-91]

Coffee as a luxury drink

Initially, however, coffee was an expensive luxury good and reserved for the few, as only aristocrats and wealthy citizens could afford it at first. [1] [10-19] [14-30]

After the aristocrats in Versailles, aristocrats in Paris also began to drink coffee, as did wealthy citizens. Coffee drinking was also adopted by nobles from the provinces, and since they were also imitated there, coffee spread from the metropolises to the French kingdom. [10-20] [10-21]

Coffee was a fashionable drink that brought with it new eating and social habits. It was a drink that gradually replaced wine on certain occasions and at certain times of the day, and it was drunk either at home or in special premises while socializing. [10-19]

There were coffee houses all over Europe, regardless of French customs. However, we are of the opinion that coffee culture in the rest of Europe was nevertheless strongly influenced by French customs, which were formative for Europe at that time and were adopted everywhere. It would not be entirely wrong to assume that coffee as a stimulant spread to the rest of Europe in the 17th century, starting from the courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV, where hot, sugared coffee was drunk, and that in some countries the custom of drinking coffee in the afternoon and serving it after meals spread. [1]

Some write that coffee was slow to become fashionable at the court of Louis XIV, as this only happened under Louis XV. [6-92] However, Hanna Diyāb’s report contradicts this statement, as he reports on the coffee house owner Estephan: “The minister summoned him and ordered him to open a café in Versailles so that the sons of the princes would not visit his store in Paris. He complied, opened a café there and took care of the coffee supply in the royal palace.[9-295] This request was made during the reign of Louis XIV.

The desire for coffee was also a fiscal problem. The ‘Letters of a Traveling Frenchman’ from 1784 report on Frederick the Great: “The king keeps the most precise tables of the things that luxury brings in from abroad. If he sees that an article is rising excessively, he makes its consumption more difficult by increasing the excise, as he recently did with coffee, which, according to his lists, has drawn several million livres from his lands in recent years. … The king, who in all things strictly observes the order of nature, has long worked not so much to obtain money from abroad as to plug the channels through which money could flow out of his states into foreign countries.[21- 393] [22-112] [22-113] [22-114]

Johann Kaspar Riesbeck: Briefe eines reisenden Franzosen über Deutschland an seinen Bruder zu Paris. Zweyter Band. 1784, page 112-114.
Johann Kaspar Riesbeck: Briefe eines reisenden Franzosen über Deutschland an seinen Bruder zu Paris. Zweyter Band. 1784, page 112-114. [22-112] [22-113] [22-114]

– “Der König bekömmt die genauesten Tabellen von den Sachen, welche der Luxus aus der Fremde bezieht. Sieht er, daß ein Artikel unmäßig steigt, so erschwert er durch die Erhöhung der Akzise die Konsumtion desselben, wie er es vor kurzem mit dem Kafee machte, der nach seinen Listen in den letzen Jahren einige Millionen Livres aus seinen Landen zog. … Der König, welcher in allen Dingen die Ordnung der Natur strenge befolgt, arbeitete lange nicht so sehr daran, Geld vom Auslande zu gewinnen, als vielmehr die Kanäle zu stopfen, wodurch aus seinen Staaten Geld in die Fremde ausfliessen könnte. [21- 393] [22-112] [22-113] [22-114]

Frederick the Great carried out a tax reform in 1766. Luxury goods, including coffee, were taxed, while food for the poor, bread and pork, was not to be taxed at all. This reform was to be carried out with the help of the Frenchman Launay and his compatriots. Coffee was monopolized, and coffee was smuggled. To make smuggling impossible, only roasted coffee was allowed to be sold in soldered tin cans. You needed an official roasting license to roast your own coffee. In order to control these regulations, there were ‘Kaffeeriecher’ (‘coffee sniffer’), as they were called by the people. [23-472] [23-473] [24-29] [25-5] These ‘Kaffeeriecher’ are described as “a special breed of watchmen who wandered up and down the streets and, like sniffer dogs, strained their olfactory nerves at all doors and windows to smell whether coffee was being burned anywhere. Such a rule was bound to arouse general grumbling, and to irritate the feelings of every citizen, as he was exposed to hourly inspections in his house.[23-473]

Gottfried Traugott Gallus: Geschichte der Mark Brandenburg. Sechster Band. 1805, page 473.
Gottfried Traugott Gallus: Geschichte der Mark Brandenburg. Sechster Band. 1805, page 473. [23-473]

– “eine eigene Menschengattung von Aufpassern, welche die Straßen auf- und abwanderten, und gleich Spürhunden an allen Thüren und Fenstern ihre Geruchsnerven anspannten, um zu riechen, ob irgendwo Kaffee gebrannt worden wäre. Eine solche Masregel mußte allgemeines Murren erregen, und das Gefühl jedes Bürgers zum Verdruß aufreizen, da er in seinem Hause stündlichen Visitationen ausgesetzt war. [23-473]

It is also written: “The French coffee growers became the object of the bitterest popular hatred and the king, at de Launay’s suggestion, felt compelled to reduce the tax because of the many penalties for the surreptitious trade.[24-29]

J. D. E. Preuß: Friedrich der Große. Dritter Band. 1833, page 29.
J. D. E. Preuß: Friedrich der Große. Dritter Band. 1833, page 29. [24-29]

– “Die französischen Kaffeeriecher wurden ein Gegenstand des bittersten Volkshasses und der König sah sich, der vielen Strafen für den Schleichhandel wegen, auf de Launay’s Vorschlag, genöthigt, die Auflage zu ermäßigen. [24-29]

Coffee plantations in Versailles

Coffee was grown in Versailles, and from there coffee plantations spread to French colonies. Coubard d’Aulnay dealt with this topic beautifully in 1832 in his monograph on coffee. So let’s give him the floor, we couldn’t describe it better: “A Frenchman had the honor of being the first to try to make coffee a success in a climate other than that of its home country. He planted coffee beans near Dijon in 1670, and although they sprouted, they were unsuccessful. Nicolas Witsen from Amsterdam was the first to transport the tree from Moka to Batavia in 1690, some talking about fresh berries and others about the tree itself. This first attempt had the most fortunate results. The governor of Batavia sent a plant to the greenhouses in Amsterdam in the same year. Mr. de Ressons, lieutenant-general of artillery and botany enthusiast, brought the first coffee plant from Holland to France and presented it to Louis XIV in Marly in 1712, from where it was sent to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris; it produced flowers and fruit, but soon died. In 1714, Mr. de Brancas, mayor of Amsterdam, sent another strain as a gift to Louis XIV. All the coffee plants grown in our colonies today come from this plant, which was cultivated in the soil of the Jardin du Roi. In 1716, young plants grown from the seeds of the Jardin des Plantes were entrusted to the doctor Isambert to bring them to our colonies; however, as this doctor died shortly after his arrival, this first attempt did not have the success that had been hoped for. In 1723, the doctor de Chirac entrusted the Norman nobleman de Clieux, an infantry captain and ensign, with a coffee plant to be brought to Martinique. The crossing was long and dangerous; the water on the ship was scarce and was only distributed in small rations. Mr. de Clieux, who recognized the importance of spreading this fruit in our American colonies and wanted to preserve a new source of wealth for his country, shared the water ration entrusted to him with the precious shrub and was lucky enough to bring it ashore in Martinique, weak but not in a hopeless condition. He planted it in the spot in his garden that was most favorable for its growth, surrounded it with thorny hedges and had it guarded on sight. In the first year, to his delight, he harvested two pounds of seeds. He gifted them to Mr. de la Guarigue Survillier, colonel of the Martinique militia, and various inhabitants of the island who planted them. Mr. Blondel Jouvencourt, administrator of the Windward Islands, stated in a document in good form dated February 22, 1722, that in Mr. Survillier’s garden in the Sainte-Marie district there were several coffee plants, including nine trees that had not been in the ground for twenty months; the same document stated that there were 200 trees in Martinique with flowers and fruits, more than two thousand less advanced, and many others whose seeds were only not in the ground.[14-37] [14-38] [14-39] [14-40]  “From Martinique, plants were brought to Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and other neighboring islands. However, some authors claim that coffee was brought to Saint-Domingue as early as 1715.[14-43]

G.-E. Coubard d’Aulnay: Monographie du café. 1832, page 37-40.
G.-E. Coubard d’Aulnay: Monographie du café. 1832, page 37-40. [14-37] [14-38] [14-39] [14-40]

– »Un Français eut I’honneur de tenter le premier de faire réussir le Cafe dans un autre climat que celui de son pays natal. II planta en 1670, aux environs de Dijon, des grains qui levèrent, mais ne réussirent pas. Nicolas Witsen, d’ Amsterdam, fut le premier qui, en 1690, transporta, les uns disent des baies récentes, d’autres, I’arbre mème de Moka à Batavia. Ce premier essai eut les plus heureux résultats. Le gouverneur de Batavia en envoya, la mème année, un pied dans les serres d’Amsterdam. M. de Ressons, lieutenant-général d’artillerie et amateur de botanique, apporta en France le premier pied de Cafier, venu de Hollande, et présenté a Louis XIV, en 1712, à Marly, d’où il fut envoyé à Paris au jardin des Plantes; on lui vit produire des fleurs et des fruits, mais il ne tarda pas à mourir. Ce fut alors que M. de Brancas, bourguemestre d’Amsterdam, en 1714, envoya un autre pied en présent à Louis XIV. C’est de ce pied, éléve dans la terre du Jardin du Roi, que sont provenus tous les Cafiers que l’on cultive actuellement dans nos colonies. Dès 1716, de jeunes plants,éléves des graines du jardin des Plantes, furentconfiés à M. Isambert, médecin, pour les transporter dans nos colonies; mais ce médecin étant mort pen de temps après son arrivée, cette première tentative n’eut pas le succès qui’on en attendait. En 1723, M. de Chirac, médecin, confia à M. de Clieux, gentilhomme Normand, capitaine d’infanterie et enseigne de vaisseau, un pied de Café pour être porté à la Martinique. La traversée fut longue et dangereuse; I’eau manquait sur le vaisseau et n’était plus distribuée que par petites rations. M. de Clieux, qui sentait toute I’importance de propager ce fruit dans nos colonies d’Amérique, et voulait conserver à son pays une nouvelle source de richesses, partagea avec le précieux arbrisseau qui lui avait été confié la ration d’eau qu’on lui donnait, et il eut le bonheur de le débarquer à la Martinique, faible, mais non pas dans un état désespéré. Alors ses soins redoublèrent; il le planta dans I’endroit de son jardin le plus favorable à son accroissement, I’entoura de haies d’épines et le fit garder à vue. Il eut la première année la satisfaction de récolter deux livres de graines. Il en donna à M. de la Guarigue Survillier, colonel des milices à la Martinique, et à divers habitans de I’ile qui les plantèrent. M. Blondel Jouvencourt, intendant des iies du Vent, constata par un acte en bonne forme, en date du 22 février 1722, qu’il existait dans le jardin de M. Survillier, au quartier de Sainte-Marie, plusieurs pieds de Café, et entre autres, neuf arbres hors de terre depuis vingt mois; le même acte constatait I’existence à la Martinique de deux cents arbres portant fleurs et fruits, de plus de deux mille moins avancés, et de quantité d’autres dont les graines étaient seulement hors de terre.« [14-37] [14-38] [14-39] [14-40]

G.-E. Coubard d’Aulnay: Monographie du café. 1832, page 43.
G.-E. Coubard d’Aulnay: Monographie du café. 1832, page 43. [14-43]

– »De la Martinique, on porta des plants à Saint-Domingue, à la Guadeloupe, et autres iles adjacentes. Quelques auteurs prétendent cependant que le Café avait été porté dès 1715 à Saint-Domingue.« [14-43]

This information is also confirmed by an earlier publication, [13-65] [13-66] and in particular by Johann Beckmann, who wrote in 1770: “The first coffee tree that came to the Antilles, and which had grown up in the Paris garden, was brought in 1716 by a young doctor named Isemberg. But because he died immediately after his arrival, everything fell into disrepair again. Afterwards, in 1720, Mr. de Clieux brought a new tree. He himself confirmed this story to V. in a letter dated February 22, 1774, which is printed here.[15-94]

Johann Beckmann: Physikalisch-ökonomische Bibliothek. Siebenter Band. 1776, page 94.
Johann Beckmann: Physikalisch-ökonomische Bibliothek. Siebenter Band. 1776, page 94. [15-94]

– “Der erste Kaffeebaum, der nach den Antillen kam, und der im Pariser Garten erwachsen war, ward 1716 durch einen Jungen Arzt, namens Isemberg, überbracht. Weil aber dieser gleich nach seiner Ankunft starb, so gerieth alles wieder in Stecken. Nachher brachte Herr de Clieux, im Jahre 1720, von neuem einen Baum daher. Dieser hat dem V. noch selbst in einem hier abgedruckten Briefe, vom 22 Febr. 1774, diese Erzählung bestätigt.” [15-94]

The doctor Isambart mentioned in the report, who may also have been a botanist, is also called d’Isemberg, was not successful with his experiments, as he died of yellow fever a few days after his arrival in Martinique. [16]

It can also be said that the coffee harvested by Louis XIV from the coffee plants grown in his orangeries was prepared by himself and only shared with his closest friends. [11-10] This is contradicted by the statement that Louis XIV did not like coffee. [20-58]

His successor, Louis XV, was also a great coffee lover. He also had coffee grown in Versailles, in Trianon, and a few pounds of coffee could be harvested every year. The king roasted the beans himself and used them to make his own coffee. [3] [4] [5] He also loved to serve coffee to his guests, [5] and the court was crazy about it. [20-58]

Now that we have taken a closer look at the arrival of coffee in Paris and Europe, in the next part of this series we will turn our attention to coffee houses and their social significance.

  1. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaffee#Europa Kaffee.
  2. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caf%C3%A9 Café.
  3. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caf%C3%A9#Introduction_en_Europe_et_en_Am%C3%A9rique_(XVIIe_si%C3%A8cle) Café.
  4. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trianon Trianon.
  5. https://thegoodlifefrance.com/the-history-of-coffee-in-france/ Sue Aran: The history of coffee in France.
  6. https://archive.org/details/AllAboutCoffee/page/91/mode/2up?q=frenchAb William H. Ukers: All about coffee. New York, 1922.
  7. https://books.google.de/books?id=nsPTDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA364&lpg=PA364&dq=%22die+ersten+kaffeeh%C3%A4user+in+frankreich%22&source=bl&ots=Gyc82xfa6s&sig=ACfU3U3rItWvMuKSdzcBHHmzY67kGKQCeA&hl=de&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjRgr6h8qv1AhUthP0HHZEHB98Q6AF6BAgCEAM#v=onepage&q=%22die%20ersten%20kaffeeh%C3%A4user%20in%20frankreich%22&f=false Egon Friedell: Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit. Kulturgeschichte Ägyptens. ISBN 978-3-86150-893-9. Zweitausendeins, Frankfurt am Main, 2009.
  8. https://www.swr.de/swr2/programm/download-swr-15678.pdf SWR2 Wissen. Kaffee – Vom „Türkentrunk” zum Trendgetränk. Von Dimitrios Kisoudis. Sendung: Donnerstag, 29. September 2016, 08.30 Uhr. Produktion: SWR 2016.
  9. Hanna Diyāb: Von Aleppo nach Paris. Die Reise eines jungen Syrers an den Hof Ludwigs XIV. Die Andere Bibliothek, Band 378. ISBN 978-3-8477-0378-5. Berlin, 2016.
  10. https://books.openedition.org/iremam/1199?lang=de#bodyftn9 H. Desmet-Gregoire: Une approche ethno-historique du café: évolution des ustensiles servant à la fabrication et à la consommation du café. In: Le café en Méditerranée. Histoire, anthropologie, économie. XVIIIe-XXe siècle. Seite 93-114.
  11. https://archive.org/details/cafekaffeekultin0000unse/page/10/mode/2up?q=kaffee+lik%C3%B6r+salon Anonymus: Café-, Kaffee-Kult in Berlin. Ein Kennerguide von Davidoff-Café. Berlin, 2001.
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suleiman_Aga Suleiman Aga.
  13. https://archive.org/details/nouveaudictionna41803/page/64/mode/2up?q=%22etienne+d%27Alep%22 Anonymus: Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle appliquée aux arts, principalement à l’agriculture et à l’économie rurale et domestique. Band IV. Paris, 1803.
  14. https://archive.org/details/b21525420/page/28/mode/2up?q=%22%C3%89tienne+d%27alep%22 G.-E. Coubard d’Aulnay: Monographie du café, ou manuel de l’amateur de café, ouvrage contenant la description et la culture du cafier, l’histoire du café, ses caractères commerciaux, sa préparation et ses propriétés; orné d’une belle lithographie. Paris, 1832.
  15. https://archive.org/details/physikalischkon08beckgoog/page/n46/mode/2up?q=Cahovet Johann Beckmann: Physikalisch-ökonomische Bibliothek worinn von den neuesten Büchern, welche die Naturgeschichte, Naturlehre, und die Land- und Stadtwirthschaft betreffen, zuverlässige und vollständige Nachrichten ertheilet werden. Siebenter Band. Göttingen, 1776.
  16. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caf%C3%A9 Café.
  17. https://archive.org/details/annalesdhyginep10unkngoog/page/n14/mode/2up?q=%22%C3%89tienne+d%27alep%22 Annales d’hygiène publique et de médecine légale. Deuxième série. Tome XVIL. Paris, Janiver 1862.
  18. https://archive.org/details/fooddrinkinhisto00balt/page/86/mode/2up?q=%22%C3%89tienne+d%27alep%22 Jean Leclant: Caffee and Cafés in Paris, 1644-1693. In: Food and Drink in History. Selections from the Annales Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations. Volume 5. Edited by Robert Foster and Orest Ranum. Seite 86-97. Baltimore & London, 1979.
  19. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k87051147/f49.image.r=paris Sylvestre Dufur, Bartolome Marradón, Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, Jacob Spon: De l’usage du caphé, du thé et du chocolate. Lyon, 1671.
  20. https://archive.org/details/coffeefromplant03thurgoog/page/n90/mode/2up?q=%22Etienne+d%27Alep%22 Francis B. Thurber: Coffee: from plantation to cup. A brief history of coffee production and consumption. Ninth edition. New York, 1884.
  21. Johann Kaspar Riesbeck: Briefe eines reisenden Franzosen. ISBN 978-3-8477-0012-8. Die Andere Bibliothek, Berlin, 2013.
  22. https://archive.org/details/briefeeinesreis00collgoog/page/n4/mode/2up Johann Kaspar Riesbeck: Briefe eines reisenden Franzosen über Deutschland an seinen Bruder zu Paris. Zweyter Band. 1784.
  23. https://archive.org/details/geschichtederma01gallgoog/page/472/mode/2up?q=kaffeeriecher Gottfried Traugott Gallus: Geschichte der Mark Brandenburg für Freunde historischer Kunde. Sechster Band. Züllichau und Freystadt, 1805.
  24. https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_oJswAAAAYAAJ/page/29/mode/2up?q=kaffeeriecher J. D. E. Preuß: Friedrich der Große. Eine Lebensgeschichte. Dritter Band. Berlin, 1833.
  25. https://archive.org/details/jahresberichtder70schl/page/n315/mode/2up?q=kaffeeriecher Schlesische Gesellschaft für vaterländische Kultur. 70. Jahresbericht 1892. III. Historisch-staatswissenschaftliche Abtheilung.
  26. https://emajartjournal.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/van-dyk_the-embassy-of-soliman-aga-to-louis-xiv.pdf Gartitt von Dyk: The Embassy of Soliman Aga to Louis XIV: Diplomacy, Dress, and Diamonds.

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Hi, I'm Armin and in my spare time I want to promote bar culture as a blogger, freelance journalist and Bildungstrinker (you want to know what the latter is? Then check out "About us"). My focus is on researching the history of mixed drinks. If I have ever left out a source you know of, and you think it should be considered, I look forward to hearing about it from you to learn something new. English is not my first language, but I hope that the translated texts are easy to understand. If there is any incomprehensibility, please let me know so that I can improve it.

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