Standing at the top of the Parc de Belleville looking over the obscured perspective of Paris it makes me wonder why it’s taken 14 years to come back to this city. As a teenager I visited Paris and saw all the sights, took in the cosmopolitan atmosphere and felt the rush of experiencing my first foreign city independently. Living over the channel in the opposing great city of London, I have been hearing of the slow and steady evolution of Parisian coffee since 2011, when Café Coutume first made its appearance.
Since then, a steady flow of café names has been heard making their way around Europe. Names like Café Lomi, Télescope, Ten Belles, Fondation Café and Holybelly. Recently though one roaster, Belleville, has particularly been making its mark and providing some French beauty in London. So much so that the last-minute decision was made to buy some plane tickets and take the un-orthodox 50min flight (most people take the Eurostar) across the channel to see what was really going on.
Belleville Brûlerie (an old French word for roastery which literally means burning) was set up by David Nigel Flynn and Thomas Lehoux in 2013. The opening was highly anticipated: David was a former partner in Telescope, and Thomas one of the names behind Ten Belles. Roasting towards the specialty market was still slow-moving in Paris—in fact, Telescope had once roasted their own beans and then stopped—and Flynn and Lehoux’s next move was hoped to be a game changer.
Go back in time, brûleries were scattered all over Paris, the city of cafés, with shop fronts specialising in coffee roasted on premises where locals could pop in and grab some beans. Over time these little shops became few and far between, and the ones that remained seem set in the mentality of turning green coffee into several different types of brown and black, where the nuances of aromatic compounds take a backseat.
I met David at his modern day Brûlerie, a storefront which houses a working roastery, providing access to the public on Saturdays. Located in the 19th arrondissement of Paris in Belleville, we do a quick production cupping and proceed down to Rue de Belleville to the newly opened café, C.R.E.A.M (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) for a quick breakfast bite.
Paris over time has become a capital of natural style, which has now become embedded in the French psyche. C.R.E.A.M is resonant of that with splashes of colour across its furnishings and hand written signage. As we leave and a follow David we discuss the growth and changes in Parisian coffee scene over his 5 years in town. As any good expat stories go, you end up in places you never expected: David is originally from DC, and arrived in Paris when the speciality coffee scene barely existed. He went to the only place around at that time where you could drink a good coffee: La Caféothèque, and while working there he met Thomas, along with other cats on the Parisian scene.
Walking through a park where ladies are offering more then just bread, we turn the corner and end up at Du Pain et Des Idées. Located on rue Yves Toudic, the site itself has been a bakery since 1889 with the current operators in place since 2002. As you enter through the door the smell of fresh baked goods takes you back to a memory of childhood. David recommends for us to try a l’escargot (a different variation on Pain de raisin). We stock up on bread and make our way to the river while David’s story continues.
As David worked at La Caféothèque, the café scene in Paris was changing, slowly. Café Lomi was one of the most popular specialty roasters, and cafes were few and far between. Until 2011, when a draft of coffee wind came through the city and started to change things. Café Coutume opened its doors to international attention. David was busy, along with then-business-partner Nicolas Clerc, with the planning stages for Telescope. This came to fruition in March 2012 followed by the opening of Ten Belles that same year. Just like Berlin before it, slowly but surely, the speciality industry arrived in Paris.
By this time it’s lunchtime and we head to Aux Deux Amis, a historical brasserie reinvented for the modern times. As we sit down to drink some wine and eat a two course lunch, dogs, locals, and the Parisian food scene gather around us. The décor screams retro and can only really be seen as something out of a collection of randomness taken from the 50’s, 60 and 70’s—orange neon lights the roof while surreal artworks capture your gaze. We are told by David that on Friday nights this place becomes organised chaos, with bar lines 5 people deep and standing room only.
Hospitality is at heart of food culture in Paris, though it might not be apparent at first. People really seem to go back to basics and understand the importance of having a meal with someone. Food finished, caffeine was needed, as I rarely eat that much food in even a day. So we make our way to Ten Belles for a afternoon espresso and a caffeine hit to keep us going. Ten Belles is a great mix of French use of space with Australian hospitality thrown in for good measure.
While at Telescope, David started to roast, and as with any passion, he wanted to pursue that side of the industry further, parting ways with Clerc and Telescope in 2013. Himself needing a new challenge, Lehoux, a master cheesemonger (from a young age Lehoux used to sell cheese alongside his cheesemaker parents at the market) joined David to open Belleville. David points out an old brûlerie on the street and explains the number of these that used to be around Paris along with the nostalgia that Parisians have towards them. People were used to buying fresh coffee and drinking it at home, and that mentality is still there, David explains. He and Lehoux are trying to create the style of roastery, he continues, like the ones that used to be here before—but with better coffee and more roasting knowledge, and embracing the new community.
As the afternoon darkness sets, in David takes us to one more place, which will shortly cease to exist: a small bar called Le Rubis, a beautiful zinc wine bar which has the hearty French charm of days gone by and a wine list to match, but which the owners have sold since they are retiring. We have a couple of beers, agree more bars should be made from zinc, and say our goodbyes.
All photos by Victor Frankowski for Sprudge.com