Paris is famous for many things. It’s a booming cultural center of inspiring food, daring fashion, breathtaking architecture, and historical art, but would you consider it for the coffee? Belleville Brûlerie, a company that started in the French capital over five years ago, is among the faces of the changing and strengthing specialty coffee scene. They’re blending a traditional look and solid cultural identity with new flavors and ideas.
One of their main locations, La Fontaine de Belleville, has all the aesthetic motifs of an authentic sidewalk Parisian cafe; the straw chairs, tiled floors, and delicately painted signage but the taste on your plate and in your cup is modern. Belleville roasts themselves, driving carefully sourced specialty coffee to become as much a staple as the aesthetics of the cafe, along with locally sourced food, beers, and wine. We interviewed David Flynn about the company and the transforming scene of Paris.
The interview has been edited for clarity.
Who are you and what is your role at Belleville?
My name is David Flynn and I’m one of the co-founders of Belleville Brûlerie Paris. My day to day role is company CEO and director of coffee and marketing.
What do you think the main goals or values of cafe Belleville are?
At Belleville, our goal is to share amazing coffee with as many people as possible. Since day one we’ve been committed to democratizing good coffee in France. France has an amazing artisan tradition, which inspires a lot of what we do. We talk a lot about how we’re lucky to get to work with a product as incredible as specialty coffee, one that has passed through many many hands to make it to a café counter in France. It’s a great feeling to get to go to work every day knowing we can share something great with our clients, something that actually makes their day better.
What do you think of the Paris coffee scene now compared to 5 years ago? Do you think specialty coffee is a touristy thing or is it popular with the locals?
The Paris coffee scene has changed dramatically over the last 5 years. When we opened (just over 5 years ago) there were legitimately 5 shops with whom we thought we might be able to work. Since then the scene has grown rapidly with lots of coffee focused shops opening up all over town. It’s true that in the beginning the large expat community in Paris contributed to the growth in specialty coffee and especially “anglo” or “Scandinavian” influenced coffee shops but that has been changing lately.
We opened La Fontaine de Belleville two and a half years ago with the idea that there was no reason great coffee couldn’t be served in a classic Parisian street side café. La Fontaine has taken off and while we definitely have expats and tourists who come by, the vast majority of our clientele are French people who live in the neighborhood. Since the launch of La Fontaine, we’ve also seen many other traditional cafés decide to leave large industrial roasters to work with specialty coffee. It’s an incredibly exciting development. Paris has such an incredible café culture, it would have been a shame for specialty coffee to remain chained to “coffee shops."
What is your favorite part of working at Belleville?
Without a doubt the people. Our team has grown rapidly over the last few years from the days when it was Thomas and I doing everything to today when we number 47. I feel incredibly fortunate to get to work with people as passionate as they are. Beyond just our team, our suppliers and clients are also sources of inspiration and many of them are friends. I think the specialty industry is pretty special in that respect.
Belleville has a very strong visual identity, especially on social media. Do you think this is a reflection of the people and places around the business?
Thank you! Absolutely, design and identity are important to us and we’ve been fortunate to work very closely with some amazing artists and designers. On top of that, our first ever hire had a background in social media! While he initially took a job bagging coffee, Albin Durand has been with us for the last 4 years and together the two of us have been working to make sure Belleville looks and sounds a certain way. That said, we have the luxury of getting to play with an incredibly rich pallet, Paris and France, in general, has such a rich visual tradition that it would be hard to run out of ideas.
How do you approach roasting and make it your own?
Our approach to roasting is centered around sweetness. I received a bit of advice when we started from Trish Rothgeb, a mentor and the owner of Wrecking Ball coffee in SF, to cup absolutely every roast. It seems so basic but it’s hard to do, especially in the beginning when you’re trying to do everything at once. I’m incredibly proud that we took that advice to heart and continue cupping every batch to this day.
In the last year and a half, we’ve been exploring blending coffees and the different ways in which roasting and blending work together. Taking inspiration from varietal blending in cognac and in wine, we’ve created blends with the best coffees we could find to explore new possibilities of flavor. We felt it was an unexplored terrain within specialty coffee, and while we still love a great Yirgacheffe we think our assemblages stand up to any single origin coffee and in many cases present new flavor combinations we hadn’t tasted.
How do you use Acaia on bar?
You can find Acaia scales all over our roastery and cafés. At the roastery, we use them for preparing cuppings and pulling shots on the machines that we get in for testing and training. In the cafés, every shot is weighed on an Acaia Pearl before being pulled. We’re committed to consistency and Acaia helps us achieve that.
Thank you again for the interview!
Photos provided by Belleville - Brûlerie Paris.Find out more about the company on Facebook, Instagram and their own website here.