A History of Coffee

And Other Refreshments in

Early Modern France


Who first brought coffee to France?

Thévenot, a traveler who served it to friends in 1658.

Who first made it fashionable?

A very elegant Turkish ambassador. But the fashion did not, at first, last.

Who first made coffee popular?

Procope, whose elegant coffeehouse still survives today, though as a restaurant.

What other drinks were popular?

Notably, lemonade. But the “lemonade-vendors” also sold coffee, various fruit drinks, and even ice cream.

From "An Overview of Le Grand d'Aussy on Non-Alcoholic Drinks":

"Le Grand d'Aussy's chapters on cold and hot non-alcoholic drinks end a long section on the history of various drinks. They appear in the third volume after a brief chapter on spirits. By far the bulk of this section addresses coffee, which Le Grand describes several times as the preferred hot drink of the French. But the first of the two chapters is a survey of cold drinks and in the second Le Grand discusses tea and chocolate before proceeding to coffee.

By the eighteenth century lemonade had a special place in among French drinks. Although citrus fruit had been known since medieval times, lemonade was a late-comer, appearing in the seventeenth century. As Le Grand points out, the original French word for it – limonade – suggests a southern origin for the drink. The standard French word for a lemon is citron; only in the south was it known as limon. Today in fact lemonade is known as citronnade; limonade refers to a soft drink.

The popularity of lemonade, going into the eighteenth century, resulted in those who sold various drinks being called limonadiers – lemonade-vendors. But they no more sold only lemonade than New York candy stores only sell candy. The limonadier was a cross between a soda-fountain, a café and even an ice cream stand. Le Grand explores the different drinks such vendors sold, including fruit drinks, coffee and other hot drinks, and even ices...."

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Some samples (on cold drinks)

"One can divide the drinks sold by the lemonade-vendors into cold and hot liquids. The latter are coffee, tea, chocolate and bavaroises, which really are only served hot. One can name as cold liquids, orgeat, lemonade, waters of currant, raspberry, etc., and other summer drinks because then these merchants serve them in tin boxes filled with chilled water. Under this same name, I include as well the artificial freezings prepared with sugar and spices, and known under the name of ices.

In the XVIth century, the Confectioners of Paris and other large cities sold, during the summer, a refreshing infusion which they composed with ground barley, raisins, prunes, dates, jujubes, and sweet roots. This drink, says Champier, was much used by the Ladies, and above all at Court; but it had the inconvenience of not keeping; it had to be renewed every day.”

According to M. du Buisson, (Art de Distillateur, 1779), ices were only known in Paris towards 1660; and we owe them to a Florentine, named Procope, who came to set up in the Capital. Soon, imitating the latter, two liqueur vendors, named le Fevre and Foi, made some as well, he says; but according to him, these three were, for a long time, the only in Paris to make and sell it.

I do not at all doubt that we owe ices to some Italian; because it is from hot countries that have come all these pleasurable inventions which the climate there makes necessary. But the secret of ices was not for a long time, as the Author claims, limited to three people. It was not even a secret; since in 1676, when the Lemonade-vendors received Statutes, they were allowed to make and sell ices and jelly waters; and these artisans numbered two hundred and fifty."

The bavaroise only goes back to the first years of this century; and it is owed to Princes of Bavaria, when they came to France. During the stay which their Highnesses spent in the Capital, they often went to take tea at M. Procope's. But they asked that it be served them in crystal carafes, instead of sugar, they had maidenhair syrup put in. The new drink was called bavaroise, from the name of the Princes. It was adopted in the cafés, with no other change than to sometimes put in it some milk. Meanwhile, as it was later noticed that the maidenhair took away the flavor and the agreeable odor of the tea, the Café owners substituted sugar clarified and cooked to a syrup.”

Table of Contents

    • About Le Grand d'Aussy's work

    • About this Translation

    • An overview of Le Grand d'Aussy on non-alcoholic drinks

      • A brief glossary

Le Grand's History of Non-Alcholic Drinks

  • Cold liquids

    • Tisanne

    • Currant water/Vinegar syrup

    • Lemonade/Estabishment of lemonade-vendors

    • Orgeat

    • Ices (Ice Creams)

  • Hot liquids

    • [Tea]

      • Tea with milk

      • Tea plants transported in Europe

      • Bavaroise

    • Chocolate

      • Planting of cacao trees in our islands

      • How to make chocolate

    • Coffee

      • Establishment of public cafés

      • How to burn and grind coffee

      • How to make coffee

      • Café au lait

      • Planting of coffee trees in our colonies

        • In the Ile Bourbon

        • In Cayenne

        • In Martinique

        • In Santo Domingo

        • Quality of island coffees

      • Declarations of Doctors against coffee/Increase in consumption

Some samples (on hot drinks)

[Here is a] strange effect of national attitudes and of the barely reasonable esteem which is attached in all countries to foreign productions! The favor which the tea of the Chinese acquired in Europe, our European sage acquired in China. The Dutch took it there in exchange; they sold it for a very high price, and obtained, it is said, three pounds of tea for one of sage."

Chocolate, originally, was a sort of rather disgusting gruel, used among the Mexicans, who called it chocolatl. They made it with grilled cacao, and corn flour; then tinted it with rocou. When the Spanish conquered Mexico, they became familiar with it; and even, having found it, despite the off-putting look it presented, nourishing and substantial, they adopted it around 1520. Nonetheless, they changed its composition, taking out the corn and the rocou, and substituted in it sugar, vanilla, and some Asian aromatics."

"To give bring coffee into favor, and give it some merit, an extraordinary and striking circumstance was needed. Well then, this is what happened in 1669, in the time of the Delegation which h the Great-Lord, Mohammed IV, sent to Louis XIV.

Soliman Aga, head of the Delegation, having spent ten months in the Capital, during his stay having won the friendship of the Parisians by some signs of wit and gallantry, several people of distinction, and women above all, had the curiosity to go to his home. The manner in which he received them not only made them want to return several times, but attracted still others by their example. He had them served coffee, following the custom of his country; because, once fashion had introduced this drink among the Turks, etiquette had set that it must be offered to those who came to visit; as it had set at the same time that the latter could not refuse to take it. If, to please the ladies, a Frenchman, in the same situation, had offered them his black and bitter liquid, he would have been ridiculed forever; but this beverage was served by a Turk, by a gallant Turk, it was enough to give it an infinite worth.

Besides, before the palate could judge it, the eyes were seduced by the elegant and tidy apparatus which accompanied it, by these brilliant porcelain cups in which it was poured, by these napkins, decorated with gold fringes, which slaves presented to the ladies. Join to that furniture, dress, and foreign customs, the singularity of speaking to the master of the house through an interpreter, that of being seated on the ground on tiles, etc., etc., and you will agree that here was more than enough to turn the heads of French women. Leaving the Ambassador's with an enthusiasm which it is easy to imagine, they hurried to all their acquaintances to speak of this coffee which they had taken at his place; and God knows how the one and the other were praised. What produced this extraordinary infatuation? It is that, having begun a habit, the people who had tasted it at Soliman's wanted to continue to take it at their homes; and that others, to impress, had it served at their table.

All text and translations copyright 2013 Jim Chevallier.
Please do not reproduce or post elsewhere without prior permission.


UPDATED: August 27, 2022