France in the history of coffee
France was the starting point for many voyages that launched the coffee trade and helped develop coffee cultivation around the world.
A less well-known fact is that several discoveries were also made in France, connected with the treatment processes and the machines that today enable us to extract its best aromas.
On the coffee route…
Many nations were involved in discovering, importing and exporting this magical new drink. France was a pioneer, with its group of travellers and traders who were among the first to believe in the virtues and above all the potential of coffee beans…
Pierre de La Roque, a keen traveller, was the first to introduce a few coffee beans to Marseille.
Ship owners and traders in Saint-Malo teamed up to buy the privilege of the coffee treaty in Arabia, for the princely sum of 7000 francs. Thus, "Le Curieux" and "Le Diligent" cast off and headed towards Moka, under the command of Mr de La Merveille. After several months in Yemen, the commercial treaty was signed.
The Sultan of Yemen offered some 60 coffee plants to Louis XIV. The first export would soon follow with Captain Dufresne d'Arsel, who transported them to Bourbon Island, aka… Reunion.
Mourgues, a former soldier, introduced a few coffee beans to Guiana and the first harvests abounded in 1722.
On a visit to metropolitan France, Sir Gabriel de Clieu discovered a new plant, the coffee tree. He managed to obtain two shrubs from the first doctor of the king, with the mission of implanting them in Martinique. After a journey full of pitfalls, "Le Dromadaire" arrived safe and sound, and coffee acclimatised perfectly to the Antilles. It spread fast, from Guadeloupe to the Dominican Republic.
Back to flourishing Guiana, which was visited by a Brazilian officer who came to obtain a few coffee beans. The governor’s answer was no, but his wife would be more generous. The officer left with the precious beans. These were the first steps of coffee-growing in Brazil, which would later be fabulously successful.
Martinique was not to be left out, as the coffee trees flourished there. A few colonists decided to export coffee to Ireland and Denmark.
About the machines…
All kinds of coffee machines were invented in the last two centuries, as inventors of all nationalities took inspiration from each other’s creations! The French were not left behind, as they made a great contribution. Here are a few memories...
Jean-Baptiste de Belloy, Archbishop of Paris, started it all by inventing the percolation system and the 1st coffee maker ("La Débelloire" or "Le Dubelloire"). This involved two stacked containers, separated by a compartment containing the coffee. The boiling water was poured into the top part; the coffee slowly infused and trickled into the bottom container.
The idea of the espresso machine came from the mind of Louis-Bernard Rabaut. This involved using steam to push the extraction water onto fine grounds, with the beans having been intensively roasted beforehand.
The Cona type vacuum coffee maker made its appearance; two globes on top of each other, attached to a stand, functioning by air pressure. The patent would be registered by Jeanne Richard in 1837.
Louis Gabet took over by inventing the pendulum siphon, a coffee maker consisting of two containers (ceramic for the water and glass for the coffee). The water was transferred by siphon effect via a tube. Once the water was transferred, the weight triggered a pendulum that turned off the burner.
The World’s Fair in Paris provided a showcase for an invention by Edouard Loysel de Santais: the hydrostatic percolator. This was a machine that produced large quantities of coffee by extraction pressure. This was the real starting point that would enable Italian inventors to create “the espresso machine” a century later…
Alongside all these adventures, the black beverage delighted French men and women of all classes… The first cafés opened in the South and then in Paris shortly afterwards, leading to the amazing enthusiasm for coffee that we see today…