French Coffee Scene: Cozy History, Market, and Trends

By Colleen Luckett

Let’s take a trip to the land of cream, croissants, and . . . coffee? Yep, France has its own rich history with our most beloved bean.

We’ll first go back a bit before that, though—to around 850 A.D. in Ethiopia. Kaldi, legendary Ethiopian goatherd, is said to have noticed his herd frolicking from one coffee shrub to another grazing on the pods containing the beans. After he tried a few beans himself, he was soon cavorting with his goats. Upon witnessing Kaldi’s ensuing merriment, a nearby monk gathered the pods and prepared an infusion for his fellow brothers. The monks were said to have stayed awake all night receiving divine inspiration while reciting prayers.

That’s how good our bean is. And, thus, the start of the coffee craze.

By the early 17th century, Venetian merchants introduced coffee to Europe, where it was met with strong resistance from the Catholic church. 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.

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Coffee was first introduced to Paris in 1669 by Suleyman Aga, the ambassador to the court of King Louis XIV of France. Aga was sent by Mohammed IV with sacks of coffee, which he described as a magical beverage when mixed with a small quantity of cloves, cardamom seeds, and sugar. Two years later in 1671, an Armenian whom everyone called “Pascal,” opened a coffee-drinking booth at the fair of St.-Germain. He offered the beverage for sale from a tent, supplemented by the service of Turkish waiter boys, who peddled it among the crowds from small cups on trays. Soon, visitors to the fair learned to look for the “little black” cupful of cheer, or petit noir, a name that still endures. This marked the beginning of Parisian coffee houses.

Indeed, French cafés have had a long history of being gathering places. Today, 80% of all coffee consumption in France takes place at home, usually brewed in the cafetière à piston, or French press. Covering the other 20% are the cafés, which remain very popular among French consumers. Besides the traditional cafés, which focus on French-based coffee, the country has recently seen a rapid rise in specialty coffee shops. The coffee movement is, predictably, most prominent in the capital, Paris, where specialty coffee shops are introducing different flavors and types of coffee to French consumers—a cozy relationship between developing taste and market growth.

Because dark “French roast” coffee dominates the coffee market in France, it has long been considered saturated. But today’s consumers are increasingly opening up to other types of coffee and light to medium roasts. Since about 2013, the country’s coffee industry has been experiencing growth in the number of branded coffee shops, where French press coffee makers, cozy pourover techniques, and even cold brew are beginning to crack the market. (If they were using our french press insulated cover, the Koffee Kozee, they would attract more customers by keeping coffee hot in the press for up to an hour.) At the same time, small- and medium-sized craft roasters are introducing different coffees and gradually changing market dynamics.


Paris is experiencing a positive shift in its coffee scene, having fallen behind some of the other major cities in the world, such as Seattle, London, and Melbourne. Independent coffee houses like La Caféotheque and Coutume are opening up. They’re not only offering their customers a satisfying gustatory experience but also are roasting their beans onsite, after gathering these beans from growers around the world. There are now more than 40 other independent establishments in and around the City of Light.

Interestingly, hard coffee pods (capsules) are the most rapidly growing category in the coffee market in France. As in other countries, the French are replacing their French press coffee makers and drip systems with single-serve capsules to match a mobile lifestyle. In 2012, sales of coffee capsules in France totaled 1.3 billion Euros (nearly $1.5 billion). Coffee capsules represented 15.9% of total consumption in 2011, as compared to 4.1% in 2004, and continues to grow rapidly.

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With a market share of 85%, Nestlé dominated with its Nespresso brand (you may remember Nestlé Nespresso brand’s prominence in China, as well, from our coffee in China blog). In 2014, a quarter of Nespresso’s global sales came from France, mirroring the strong demand among French consumers. Nestlé’s sales of coffee capsules in France have almost doubled since 2007, reaching a value of 634 million Euros ($726 million) in 2012.

Join us for our next blog in this series when we dive into coffee chains and roasters in France. Know a thing or two about coffee in France? Drop us a comment below!

Perry LuckettComment