The introduction of coffee into Paris by Thévenot in 1657—How Soliman Aga established the custom of coffee drinking at the court of Louis XIV—Opening the first coffee houses—How the French adaptation of the Oriental coffee house first appeared in the real French café of François Procope—The important part played by the coffee houses in the development of French literature and the stage—Their association with the Revolution and the founding of the Republic—Quaint customs and patrons—Historic Parisian cafés
If we are to accept the authority of Jean La Roque, "before the year 1669 coffee had scarcely been seen in Paris, except at M. Thévenot's and at the homes of some of his friends. Nor had it been heard of except in the writings of travelers."
As noted in chapter V, Jean de Thévenot brought coffee into Paris in 1657. One account says that a decoction, supposed to have been coffee, was sold by a Levantine in the Petit Châtelet under the name of cohove or cahoue during the reign of Louis XIII, but this lacks confirmation. Louis XIV is said to have been served with coffee for the first time in 1664.
Soon after the arrival, in July, 1669, of the Turkish ambassador, Soliman Aga, it became noised abroad that he had brought with him for his own use, and that of his retinue, great quantities of coffee. He "treated several persons with it, both in the court and the city." At length "many accustomed themselves to it with sugar, and others who found benefit by it could not leave it off."
Within six months all Paris was talking of the sumptuous coffee functions of the ambassador from Mohammed IV to the court of Louis XIV.
Isaac D'Israeli best describes them in his Curiosities of Literature:
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.
It was in 1669 or 1672 that Madame de Sévigné (Marie de Rabutin-Chantal; 1626–96), the celebrated French letter-writer, is said to have made that famous prophecy, "There are two things Frenchmen will never swallow—coffee and Racine's poetry, " sometimes abbreviated into, "Racine and coffee will pass." What Madame really said, according to one authority, was that Racine was writing for Champmeslé, the actress, and not for posterity; again, of coffee she said, "s'en dégoûterait comme; d'un indigne favori" (People will become disgusted with it as with an unworthy favorite).
Larousse says the double judgment was wrongly attributed to Mme. de Sévigné. The celebrated aphorism, like many others, was forged later. Mme. de Sévigné said, "Racine made his comedies for the Champmeslé—not for the ages to come." This was in 1672. Four years later, she said to her daughter, "You have done well to quit coffee. Mlle. de Mere has also given it up."Coffee Was First Sold and Served Publicly in the Fair of St.-Germain
From a Seventeenth-Century Print
However it may have been, the amiable letter-writer was destined to live to see Frenchmen yielding at once to the lure of coffee and to the poetical artifices of the greatest dramatic craftsman of his day.
While it is recorded that coffee made slow progress with the court of Louis XIV, the next king, Louis XV, to please his mistress, du Barry, gave it a tremendous vogue. It is related that he spent $15, 000 a year for coffee for his daughters.
Meanwhile, in 1672, one Pascal, an Armenian, first sold coffee publicly in Paris. Pascal, who, according to one account, was brought to Paris by Soliman Aga, offered the beverage for sale from a tent, which was also a kind of booth, in the fair of St.-Germain, supplemented by the service of Turkish waiter boys, who peddled it among the crowds from small cups on trays. The fair was held during the first two months of spring, in a large open plot just inside the walls of Paris and near the Latin Quarter. As Pascal's waiter boys circulated through the crowds on those chilly days the fragrant odor of freshly made coffee brought many ready sales of the steaming beverage; and soon visitors to the fair learned to look for the "little black" cupful of cheer, or petit noir, a name that still endures.
When the fair closed, Pascal opened a small coffee shop on the Quai de l'École, near the Pont Neuf; but his frequenters were of a type who preferred the beers and wines of the day, and coffee languished. Pascal continued, however, to send his waiter boys with their large coffee jugs, that were heated by lamps, through the streets of Paris and from door to door. Their cheery cry of "café! café!" became a welcome call to many a Parisian, who later missed his petit noir when Pascal gave up and moved on to London, where coffee drinking was then in high favor.
Street Coffee Vender of Paris—Period, 1672 to 1689—Two Sous per Dish, Sugar Included
Lacking favor at court, coffee's progress was slow. The French smart set clung to its light wines and beers. In 1672, Maliban, another Armenian, opened a coffee house in the rue Bussy, next to the Metz tennis court near St.-Germain's abbey. He supplied tobacco also to his customers. Later he went to Holland, leaving his servant and partner, Gregory, a Persian, in charge. Gregory moved to the rue Mazarine, to be near the Comédie Française. He was succeeded in the business by Makara, another Persian, who later returned to Ispahan, leaving the coffee house to one Le Gantois, of Liége.
About this period there was a cripple boy from Candia, known as le Candiot, who began to cry "coffee!" in the streets of Paris. He carried with him a coffee pot of generous size, a chafing-dish, cups, and all other implements necessary to his trade. He sold his coffee from door to door at two sous per dish, sugar included.
Many of the Early Parisian Coffee Houses Followed Pascal's Lead and Affected Armenian Decorations