Paris, France: City Of Light, City Of Love, Or City Of Coffee?

13 min read JAN 20, 2024

One of the most populated cities in all of Europe, Paris, France is not only home to spectacular, grand sites such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Notre Dame Cathedral, it’s also widely known for its beautiful and bustling streets, dotted with cozy cafes and bistros that largely contribute to this town’s widely known nicknames, the City of Love and the City of Light.

But, where did these labels come from?

What prompted such names which have endured the test of time?

Well, in the 1860’s Paris was one of the first European cities to use gas lamps to light its streets. And, this is sometimes attributed to the city’s luminous moniker.

But, most recognize this reference to light as a nod to the role Paris played in the Age of Enlightenment, this European hub being the center stage, even the birthplace, of some of the most influential intellectual discourse and philosophies which arose throughout this time.

However, this world renowned city is also commonly referred to as the City of Love.

Paris is said to be the best and most beautiful city in the world, known for its ambiance, fine dining, rich history, familiar landmarks, cozy cafes, and more.

And, each of these play a part in the city’s romantic vibes today, most of which date back much farther than the gas-lit street lamps.

As far back as the Middle Ages, the world’s wealthiest couples found Paris to be a prime travel destination to tie the knot.

Even today the city streets of Paris are commonly filled with couples in love, joined hand in hand, as they take in the romantic sights, sounds, and tastes of Pari.

So then, is Paris the City of Light or the City of Love?

Of course, this historic and beautiful place can be rightly known by both nicknames, but did you know that coffee has played a role in each label, keeping both innovation and romance alive in “the world’s best city” even today?

That’s right, coffee isn’t just a staple for at-home morning sips.

In fact, the city of Paris romantically illustrates how this beloved beverage has fueled lovers and leaders for generations!

First Love, Then Coffee, Then Knowledge

The Middle Ages, a time commonly used to describe the medieval era, were chivalrous times, those when love was celebrated in song and literature.

One professor set apart this age of romance, stating “people in every time and culture have fallen in love, but not every culture has written about love or valued it in the same way.”

And, for wealthy couples in this age of love, loyalty, and honor, Paris was a prime destination to revel in romance and declare vows of marital commitment.

Believe it or not, however, this age of romance in old Pari did not include iconic scenes of couples staring longingly at one another across tiny tables at sidewalk cafes.

Wait…what?

While we commonly think of lovers walking the bustling streets of Paris, stumbling into one of the many cafes to take in an espresso or latte as they speak sweet, endearing nothings to one another against the backdrop of sheer luminary and historic beauty, at least in this city’s medieval days, coffee was nowhere to be found.

The first cafe did not open in Paris until long after the Middle Ages, in 1672.

So, I suppose you could say these wealthy lovers may have given this city its title, but coffee has ensured its safe-keeping.

Since the first cafe opened in Paris, the city’s bean scene has grown exponentially. And, with this growth, cafes and coffee houses all across the cities’ 6,000+ streets have routinely seen their fair share of entwined hearts.

But, prior to coffee’s role in keeping love alive across Paris, it first played a large part in the advancement of knowledge.

It wasn’t long after the first cafe opened in Paris that a love for this scene grew. And, by the end of the 18th century, the city was home to more than 2000 cafes and coffeehouses.

So, Parisians were clearly flocking to fill cafe seats, but not for the reason you may think.

You see, the flavor of coffee in the 1700’s still left much to be desired. In fact, while some nobles had a great love for the taste of this brew during this time, many have contrarily noted those sips to have been quite disgusting.

If not for exceptionally great coffee then, why did folks flock to Parisian cafes?

One word…community.

Cafes and coffee houses, especially in Paris, provided such a grand feeling of warmth, acceptance, and community, that people regularly filled these places, despite the lack of good tasting coffee.

And, as you can imagine, in these cafes where community and acceptance were abundant, conversation and creativity freely flowed.

In fact, Parisian cafes are noted historically as globally significant, for they are thought to have been the conduit through which free thinking, free inquiry, the value of reason, philosophy, and a craving of ingenuity and intelligence flowed, fueling the Age of Enlightenment.

These cafes, in many regards, were one of the primary sources through which Parisian life, European culture, and many societies around the globe were shaped.

And, all of this took place through the notion of community, a means of connection brought about by coffee, before the coffee being served in these cafes was even palatable.

I grew up in a small rural town where the aged men of the area often met at one of the town’s few restaurants to sip cup after cup of mediocre (at best) coffee and talk about life.

So for me, I imagine those days of enlightenment took shape in a similar fashion, where coffee provided a simple reason for meeting, allowing folks to gather and enjoy one another's presence and input, rather than an occasion for actually savoring each sip.

But now (thankfully), not only do folks continue to gather in cafes across the City of Love and Light, they also get to actually enjoy what they’re sipping!

But, before we get into the cafe scene and coffee offerings in Paris today, let’s take a quick look at how the coffee served in those cafes evolved from what many referred to as disgusting…to now decadent!

From Cafes To Coffee

At the height of cafe popularity in late 18th century Paris, coffee was primarily a man’s beverage, so such establishments were mostly known to draw crowds of men, first the wealthy elite, and soon after the working class as well.

Women were rarely seen in cafes during this time as they were said to prefer chocolate flavored drinks, these beverages considered more feminine and thought to have had medicinal qualities.

But, as coffee evolved in Paris, so did cafe patrons.

When coffee houses first introduced the cafe au lait, a rich, creamy beverage with equal parts brewed coffee and steamed milk, this transformed the typical petite noir, or little black cupful, into a drink even acceptable for Parisian women.

The cafe au lait, as opposed to the small cups of espresso or brewed black coffee regularly served in cafes, is actually said to have changed history for coffee lovers across the city.

How did one small upgrade to the typically served black coffee spark such a transformation?

Well, by adding milk to coffee, the citizens of the City of Love now viewed java as a suitable breakfast drink, for the addition of milk was thought to now provide the beverage with a sufficient amount of calories.

This new coffee concoction soon made its way into many cookbooks as well, making the beverage more acceptable across both class and gender, meaning coffee would now be enjoyed by both men and women, rich and poor.

From here, coffee gained great popularity which led to the advancement and growth of trade across French nations and beyond, and this allowed for more varieties of coffee to be savored throughout many regions of Europe.

Then, with the industrial age came new machinery, including items such as improved brewers or coffee makers and the Italian espresso machine, and over time each of these advanced the cafe experience throughout Paris.

Still, today’s cafes in Paris differ from those here in the United States, and perhaps these differences are what lend to the continued sense of romance flowing through the city as it pertains to coffee.

Enjoying coffee through the cafes of Paris has a different air, a fanciful one if you will, an air that echoes the decadence of not only the flavor of coffee, but the unique experience a cafe brings as you enjoy a cup with friends or your life’s love.

In Paris, as you stroll through the city streets, unlike here in the US, you’ll happily stumble across a number of quaint little sidewalk cafes.

No, the coffee community in Paris doesn't consist of drive-thru lanes amidst a fast paced society. Instead, the numerous city cafes in their common arrangement beckon a more romanticized lifestyle altogether, one that begs you to sit and enjoy life for a while.

After you find a quaint cafe, take note below of how you’d order your favorites…

  • In Paris, you don’t order coffee, but un café, which will deliver a small demitasse of espresso.
  • The historic café au lait is typically only ordered for breakfast as coffee with this amount of milk is rarely served after 11 am.
  • A café crème is much like an American prepared cappuccino, espresso with a bit of foamed milk. Though another version of a café crème contains espresso, a bit of hot water, and a splash of cream.
  • And, a noisette is an espresso served with a splash of hot milk that is hazelnut colored.

Then, of course we couldn’t leave you without a brief exploration of the city’s most renowned cafes, those continuing the tradition of sharing both light and love through the connecting power of coffee.

10 Best Cafes And Coffee Houses In The City Of Light And Love

1- Le Procope

Le Procope is the oldest cafe in Paris, one of the cafes we referenced above as one of the historic meeting places of the minds in the Age of Enlightenment.

Here, it is said that Benjamin Franklin wrote an important treaty and exchanged revolutionary concepts with Thomas Jefferson, amongst countless other transactions from some of the world’s most influential leaders.

Can you imagine the vast array of societal changes wrought through such exchanges in this place?

And, more practically speaking, do you ever wonder what these men ordered when meeting here?

Today, Parisians and tourists alike enjoy looking for the daily cafe special, as you can no longer simply order coffee at Le Procope since the establishment requires the purchase of a meal as well.

I suppose the historical nature and famous artifacts displayed here prompted some extra long visits over a mere demitasse, so now you can enjoy a hearty stew or soup alongside your brew.

2- La Palette


For a classic Parisian cafe experience, La Palette offers the expected people-watching experience as you can gaze upon passers-by and parts of the city itself as you sip espresso and savor a meal.

This cafe is historically known to have been frequented by Pablo Picasso, and today it’s a common spot for A-list celebrities as the “old school” and “true cafe” nature draws a crowd.

Of course, the delectable food and drink offerings are what keep folks coming back again and again to La Palette.

3- Coutume

As you’ve seen in the above cafes, some across Paris definitely offer more than coffee, with food selections becoming a commonality.

However, those cafes with a focus on coffee alone will allow you to experience a greater variety.

Coutume is one such cafe, as they offer a grand selection of coffee sourced from all around the world.

Dedicated to bringing their customers the best experience, Coutume boasts the finest specialty coffee offerings including single origin beans, pour overs, perfectly crafted espresso based classics, and more, as well as a decadent selection of pastries you can enjoy with your coffee.

Coutume is located in the center of the City of Love, and most find this spot to be cozy, relaxing, and inviting.

4- Ten Belles


For both locals and tourists alike, sometimes a stroll through Paris doesn’t afford the time to sit, relax and people-watch.

In times like these, when you want or need to quickly grab a to-go cup, but you want that cup to wow your taste buds, Ten Belles is the place to try.

Ten Belles is one of the city’s original specialty coffee shops, and this small but mighty spot brews high quality house blends, roasted locally, to keep their on-the-move patrons happy and caffeinated.

5- Les Deux Magots


This cafe, whose name means “two Chinese figurines,” was originally a fabric shop but is now considered the most famous, and the best, potentially the second best behind Le Procope, cafe in all of Paris.

In fact, its popularity often makes finding a coveted sidewalk table here nearly impossible.

Like the other most famous Parisian cafes, this location was known to be popular amongst the world’s most renowned philosophers, writers, and artists.

6- Bon Bouquet Cafe

Whether you’re ordering brunch or simply a coffee selection to-go, Bon Bouquet offers a truly delicious selection.

Considered a hip, yet quaint spot, we hear a simple cup of black coffee from the cafe as you pass by is wonderful, but the mocha stands out above the rest, having been described as truly incredible and worth the time to stop in, sit down, and enjoy a cup.

7- Cafe De Flore


I suppose we should’ve listed this directly after Les Deux Magots as these two cafes are not only situated in close proximity, but the two are considered fierce rivals, regularly claiming or being pronounced the best cafe in Paris.

Cafe De Flore, with its beautiful flowers blooming over the cafe’s overhead sign, is the perfect place to take in the city’s scenery from a sidewalk table where you can enjoy an espresso based classic alongside a croissant au beurre, this delicately delicious pastry made of rich butter.

8- Le Consulat


Dubbed one of the city's most charming cafes, Le Consulat is a small, cozy spot loved by famous historical patrons such as Van Gogh and Monet.

Today, Parisians and tourists alike enjoy sitting at a sidewalk table alongside the cobblestone streets nearby where they sip coffee and people-watch, living the realized romantic dream that the city’s cafes so elegantly, yet simply, deliver.

9- Le Peloton Cafe

Splendid coffee selection, expertly crafted drinks, a place for locals and visitors to come together, be welcomed, and experience community, leaving patrons to keep coming back time and time again.

Sounds like a great spot to me!

Le Peloton doesn’t boast the same history as Le Procope, but customers of the cafe appreciate their continuing efforts to keep coffee…great coffee…fueling the City of Love.

Here, each cup is curated from the best beans, with “velvety cappuccinos, bold espressos, and perfectly brewed pour-overs” being some of what patrons describe as their best offerings.

10- Partisan


One of the city’s trendier coffee hot spots, Partisan often serves a younger crowd on the fashion industry side of Paris.

Offering Italian and New Wave coffee, lighter roasted specialty brews, sets Partisan apart from many cafes in the city.

And, locals know that getting a timely brew means coming to Partisan early in the morning as visitors “pack the cafe” throughout the remaining hours of the day, even until closing time.

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Headshot of Becky Livingston Vance
Becky Livingston Vance Content writer

Becky is a mother, educator, and content writer for Lifeboost Coffee. She has had three years’ experience as a writer, and in that time she has enjoyed creatively composing articles and ebooks covering the topics of coffee, health and fitness, education, recipes, and relationships.

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