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The History of coffee in France Photo: Barbara Pasquet James, Focus on Paris
There’s a thriving coffee culture in France and for first time visitors it takes a bit of getting used to. Generally French cafés don’t have a menu of types of coffee, you’re expected to just know what to ask for (find a handy guide at the end of this article). But how did it get to be so popular in the first place? Sue Aran, an American, who lives in the gorgeous Gers department, AKA Gascony, and runs fabulous tours, tells the tale of France’s love affair with coffee… Madame Sévigné, one of the great French literary icons remembered for her extensive and opinionated letter writing said, “There are two things the French will never swallow – Racine’s poetry and coffee.” Fortunately, she was wrong about both. Coffee had been around almost a thousand years before it reached France. Legend has it that in Ethiopia where the coffee plants grew, in the 9th century monks made an infusion with the berries after witnessing a goatherd eating them and clearly being invigorated by the experience. Coffee travelled round the world, seen as a medicine and an aid to prayers and by the 16th century coffee houses were established in Constantinople (now Istanbul). It wasn't always popular By the early 17th century, coffee was introduced to Europe through Venetian merchants. It was met with strong resistance from the Catholic church. However, when Pope Clement VIII was asked to declare the “black, sooty beverage” the invention of Satan, he replied, “Let me taste it first.” He did and proclaimed, “This devil’s drink is so delicious we should cheat the devil by baptizing it!” After his pronouncement coffee spread through Europe like lightning. Venice’s first coffee house opened in 1645, England’s in 1650 and France’s in 1671, although coffee arrived in the port of Marseille in 1644.
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