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March 2012 - Le Procope

Café Series – Le Procope
J. Martinez & Company - Coffee Merchants
The Cafe Series

Company Newsletter
March 20, 2012

Paris’ First Café – Le Procope

Le Procope - Paris, by *checco* FrancescoThough the first coffee house in France was established in Marseille 1671, nothing counts unless it is in Paris, and the first real café in Paris was Le Procope. It is reputedly the oldest continually operating café in the world.

Le Procope was not the first place in Paris to sell coffee. The first public sale of coffee in Paris was at the fair of St. Germain de Pres and the first Parisian entrepreneur of coffee was probably Pascal, an Armenian. He sold coffee at the fair in 1672, and when it closed he opened a small coffee shop. But his clientele on the Quai de L’Ecole was fonder of wine and beer. He closed that establishment departed to London.

When Le Procope was opened in 1686 (according to other sources it may have opened as late as 1694), public consumption of coffee was gaining acceptance among the upper classes. Voltaire and Diderot at the Cafe ProcopeThe proprietor, Francesco Procopio Cotelli was a wit who appealed to a less common sort of client than Pascal. His timing was better than Pascal’s, and he also had the advantage of a prime location across from the Comedie Francaise. This left bank locale attracted a literary and theatrical crowd from the beginning. Voltaire frequented the café, reputedly downing 50 cups a day of his favorite coffee concoction, coffee and chocolate. Rousseau, the philosopher, Beaumarchais , the dramatist and financier, and many other writers and intellectuals frequented the establishment. Le Procope is where Diderot and Le Rond d’Alembert conceived of the first encyclopedia. The café was prominent during the French Revolution with such characters as Marat, Robespierre, Danton and other prominent figures in the Revolution. Napoleon Bonaparte frequented the café as a poor artilleryman, once leaving his hat as security for his bill. The roster of French public figures that frequented the café is impressive, and continues through the first half of the 20th century.

Sartre, de Beauvois, and Vian at le Procope

Paul Verlaine, the poet, revived the Café’s literary luster after it had declined a bit in the post-revolutionary period, and as late as 1948 one could find luminaries such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre gracing its tables (though their more regular haunts were the nearby Café de Flore and Deux Magots).

Whatever year in the 17th century it was founded, Le Procope was the progenitor of one of the richest café cultures in the world. The cafés of Paris still are still alive with the intellectual as well as the mundain. But the blue haze and pungent smell of Gauloise cigarettes no longer hang in the air. Which probably means the coffee tastes all the better.