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café noisette

A café is both a place and what you drink there, and the vision of a French café terrace, full of all kinds of people, writing their next novel, arguing, dreamily watching the world go by, or just soaking up some sun is as part of France as a baguette or a béret, even though these days at least half of the customers will be staring at their phones.

Coffee came to France by way of Turkey and was first sold by street vendors at the St-Germain fair. In spite of warnings that it caused impotence, the new beverage swept Paris by storm. Voltaire drank 12 cups a day.

Armenians opened the first cafés, but it was an enterprising Sicilian nobleman turned waiter named Procopio dei Coltelli, who in 1686 hit on the right formula at Procope’s (still there at 13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie), serving coffee, chocolate, alcohol and food, while encouraging customers to smoke and gamble.

It was so successful that the great historian Jules Michelet wrote that coffee led indirectly to the Revolution because it made people talk more than ever. Paris had over 2000 cafés on the eve of the attack on the Bastille—which was spontaneously conceived in a café in the Palais Royal, on the morning of 14 July, when Camille Desmoulins jumped onto a table and started talking.

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Text © Dana Facaros

Images by cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Getarchive net, MaFernandaTj, Sean X Liu