Take a stroll down Paris’ streets and you’ll find a café on nearly every street corner. In fact, there are around 5,000 cafes in Paris, so you’ll never be without the unique experience that comes with sipping coffee in a quaint café in France.
While certain Parisian cafes are better known than others, such as Café Procope, which has been open since 1686, and Les Deux Magots, Café de la Rotonde, Fouquet’s, and more, there is no shortage of newcomers either.
But why are these little shops so essential to Parisian culture? What drew the likes of Ernest Hemmingway, Benjamin Franklin, and Picasso to take their daily coffee in these little shops?
To answer that question, you have to look back through history to see where it all began.
In the Beginning: Coffee
Coffee has long been the fascination of anyone who tries it and the French were no different. Coffee first came to Paris in 1644 and while it took a little time for it to gain traction, it soon was quite popular.
An Armenian man started Café Procope, which was the first successful café of the time, though not under the original owner. He began with a lemonade stand and later introduced coffee, but the drink was still far too new to be a hit. He left the stand to his apprentice, Procopio Cuto, who took it to a whole new level by moving into an old bath house and outfitting it in sheer elegance. The café rapidly gained importance and soon was popular with such famed folks as Voltaire, when he was in country, Diderot, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among other famous people of the time.
The first café served a simple, yet elegant fare, which included ice cream, coffee, tea, chocolate, and sweets, as well as liqueurs. It was a place to meet up with friends in a rather posh setting and catch up on the latest gossip, while enjoying a drink and a bit of cake.
It wouldn’t be until the 19th century that other cafes would begin to offer ice cream, so this was a menu item found only at Café Procope for many decades.
The Patisserie Display: A Place to Plot
By the early 1700’s, Paris had over 300 cafes and by the end of the century, that had expanded to nearly 2,000. The small, cosy venues had become an important place in the city. They were known for their heated discussions on politics and literature, among other important topics. At the time, the cafes were mainly occupied by men, though high-born women would take their coffee outside in their carriages.
By the time the Revolution came around, the cafes were popular among Revolutionary clubs and were a safe space to elaborate on political beliefs. Even after the Revolution, these haunts were used as a place to enjoy talking with friends and reading the latest news. Again, politics was always a hot topic, but men often enjoyed a game of checkers while they bantered about the biggest issues of the day. Big decisions were made, alliances formed, and it wasn’t uncommon for journalists to listen in from the side-lines to collect information they could then publish in the newspaper.
It was a time when famous artists and writers from around the world gathered to enjoy intellectual discussions with each other, over a good drink. Many a writer has included the Parisian café in his or her books, often written from personal experience while enjoying what the city has to offer.
Modern Day Parisian Cafes
By the 19th century, the café culture of Paris again shifted. Instead of being a men-only club, they became open to women, as well. Drinks served in the morning became popular and included tea, chocolate, and coffee. In the evenings, the cafes served heartier menus, beer, liqueurs, and ice cream. They also began to provide food, including the still common “meat breakfasts.”
When you enter a Parisian café today, you’ll find that there are more than just drinks, however. Light luncheons and a range of pastries are also available. You’ll often find a sandwich display where you may select a sandwich to accompany your coffee, or a cake display fridge, full of delectable pastries and confections to tempt your sweet tooth.
Throughout the older establishments, you’ll find evidence that famous artists, scientists, politicians, and writers once frequented them. Some even include plaques to show which seats were favoured by those now famous names. It can be quite interesting to settle yourself in the same seat where Picasso once enjoyed repast.
For most tourists and locals alike, a Parisian café is a place to sit and people-watch, while soaking up the local culture. Enjoy a croissant while you sip your espresso and watch the world go by. In the hustle and bustle of modern Paris, a café is just what you need when it all becomes too much and you need a little downtime from visiting museums and other touristic sights. You’ll be in good company, as this is a favourite pastime of many.
Style and Charm
The original cafes in Paris were particularly elegant. Café Procope, for example, was actually built in a bathhouse originally and featured marble and fixings to rival a royal family. However, the more common design for original cafes is heavy on wood panels and features an overload of red and black or green throughout. The chairs and tables are small, designed to fit multiples in a small space.
You’ll often find that the Parisian cafes spill out of the small interiors and into the outdoors, lining the streets with tables and chairs. This allows you to observe people while you sip your tea or coffee.
There’s also an etiquette that is known almost only by locals and expats. When visiting a French café, you should expect to be quiet and to know what you want. Most don’t offer a menu unless you ask for it and it’s considered rude to move chairs around. You’ll also find that waiters are aloof and may even appear rude to an outsider. They rarely speak English (though most are quite capable of it), roll their eyes at your French, and are generally unimpressed with faux pas and honest mistakes. This can make it a little challenging for the foreigner to visit these little coffee shops, but it’s still worth it, particularly if you can join a local who is up to date on the little traditions and quirks that make these cafes truly French.
The history and charm that comes from the rich past of the Parisian café has made it one of the quintessential experiences for anyone travelling to Paris.
Bakery Display Cases: Creating Parisian Style Anywhere
Paris may have the monopoly on their particular brand of cafes, but there’s no reason cafes around the world can’t enjoy similar stylings. While you may not capture the same ambience with your own café, you can certainly display your baked goods in a similar manner, with glass bakery display cases.
Ideally, you want customers to see exactly what they’re getting. It’s often simpler to order what you want by pointing to it than choosing from a menu. This is particularly true if you tend to have fresh offerings each day, and provide a variety of choices. The menu may not include everything you have to offer, while it could end up listing items that you have already sold out of. This makes it very useful to have a glass display case where patrons can simply select the items they want from what is on offer.
In addition to allowing customers to choose what they wish to eat, displays can add to the overall ambience of the space and work as a décor piece, as well. This is something that is very important to remember as you select the perfect case and materials for it. The design style needs to mesh with the rest of the café.
Paris has a unique history that shows deeply in its restaurants and cafes. From socialising to people-watching, there’s something about these tiny spaces that just makes us all swoon. Whether you plan to visit Paris for your own inspiration or are just looking to enjoy a little culture, you’ll find that cafes are the place to be.
Are you ready to create a touch of Paris in your own café? Contact us today to learn more about the bakery display cases that we have to offer!