The « de Belloy » coffeemaker [disponible en français]
(or Debelloy or Dubelloy)
We find everywhere that Jean-Baptiste de Belloy, who was the Paris archbishop at the time, invented around 1800 the coffeemaker without boiling water (also known as “French drip”).
Jean-Baptiste de Belloy de Morangles (1709-1808) – Painting from Laurent Dabos 1806
It is effectively just after the French Revolution that appeared this way to prepare coffee (known as percolation, also revolutionary and french). Up to that date, the coffee was prepared by infusion (as tea, using a cotton sock) or in decoction, boiled as the Turkish way or prepared the Greek way… different methods imported from the first countries to export coffee. But according to the french gourmets and gourmands of that time, these old methods were leading to coffee with an awful taste. This didn’t prevent it from spreading all over France, Europe and being drunk in large quantities.
DeBelloy or DuBelloy coffeemaker
This coffeemaker, called «without boiling water» (as opposed to infusion and decoction), is simply the first percolator (by leaching). It is composed by two parts with a filter in the middle, this filter being made of a perforated metal cover where the coffee powder was placed and tamped (fouled). The hot water was then poured on top of the coffee powder, passed through it and fell down into the bottom part which could be kept warm with a bath of hot water. Many improvement were made to this first invention over the years, contributions of different inventors, but this coffeemaker kept its general form and remained very popular up the middle of the XXth century.
This first «DuBelloy» was not patented, even if at this time many other patents for coffeemakers were delivered in France… the very first one (which will be the subject of the next episode) being dated from 1802.
In search for more precise dates, I came up to Jean-Baptiste de Belloy and ask myself how a prelate that was occupied to reorganize the clergy as the Paris archbishop under the Concordat (a gift from Bonaparte who appreciated is devotion), being more than 80 years old at the time, could have invented a coffeemaker… I had doubts, especially because as we go back in time close to the invention date there are not much mentions of the archbishop himself.
It is how I found one of the first mention (if not the first one) of the de Belloy coffeemaker in the «Almanach des Gourmands» from Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière («Almanach des Gourmands», 2d year, 2d edition, a pleasure to read, I really recommend it), published in 1805, that I found not the exact year but the real inventor !
It is clearly mention, by a contemporary man, a great gastronome and a relative of De Belloy, that the inventor of the coffeemaker of the same name is not the archbishop, but his nephew…
It is said in this book that the invention is «recent», which means that it couldn’t be more than few years earlier, hence around 1802-1803.
La Reynière’s friends and particularly Joseph Gastaldy (another colorful character) greatly participated to the promotion of this inventions who end up (after few improvements) in many homes and ‘cafés’ of Paris. Foulquier, then owner of the ‘Café des étrangers’ at the Palais Royal, appeared to be the first one to believe in this technological advancement and had one made for him with the help of De Belloy. It is said that this new coffeemaker and the quality of the coffee he served made the reputation of his establishment.
Another de Belloy then… Wikipedia and even some reference coffee books (added to the dozens of websites that repeat this information about an archbishop inventor) are completely wrong.
Concerning its real name, it is not mentioned, but I only found three archbishop’s nephews at this period, two of which being named «de Belloy» :
– François-Rose count de Belloy (born in Nevers, august 16th 1782, died in Marseille, junuary the 4th 1830).
– Antoine-Bernard Ducla de Belloy, we only know that he married in 1813.
For the anecdote, the doctor Gastaldy, who was president of the de La Reynière taster jury, lover of good food, great promoter of coffee for its taste and health benefits, died in 1806 as a result of a meal at Jean-Baptiste de Belloy (then promoted Cardinal). He couldn’t resist refills twice of a salmon dish that was in front of him and the plate was removed… but too late. He died shortly after sighing « Ah le bon saumon ! Ah le bon saumon !» (« Ah the good salmon ! Ah the good salmon !», «A century of anecdote from 1760 to 1860» from R. Bentley, 1864).
The other inventor…
In fact this invention may have been stolen from the pharmacist, chemist and inventor from Rouen named François-Antoine-Henri Descroizilles (1751-1825) creator of the « caféolette » in 1802.²
It would be the tinsmith who built the coffeemaker for him who stole the idea (this is what reports Louis Simon in «Le chimiste Descroizilles (François-Antoine-Henri) 1751-1825: sa vie, son oeuvre», 1921).
This story can be found in different books:
« This is how, doing research on liquids distillation, he built a small portable apparatus, that, lightly modified, is still known today as the Gay-Lussac alembic. It is him who, as a great coffee lover, had a tinsmith from Rouen make for him a model of a metallic filter, that Fourcroy and Chaptal already had in hands as the tinsmith decided to exploit the scientist discovery and went to Paris. The filter presented to the Du Belloy abbot, was promoted by its new protector and made the fortune of the merchant, who, in gratitude, sold it under the name of Du Belloy coffeemaker. »
(Dictionnaire encyclopédique et biographique de l’industrie et des arts industriels, tome IV, 1884)
« Descroizilles was receiving at his table Fourcroy, Chaptal and some other friends. These guests, pleasantly surprised by the aroma of coffee that their host served them, asked him the explanation, Descroizilles showed them the first filter coffee machine that any house from the smallest of our towns uses today. This coffee was popularized by a large coffee lover, the abbot du Belloy, and the apparatus long carried the name of the du Belloy alembic. »
(Dieppe : station marine balnéaire et climatique, André Cussac, 1926 – extract mentioned in the Bulletin de la Société d’histoire de la pharmacie, Vol. 15 No 56 pp. 473-474, 1927)
F.-A.-H. Descroizilles, 1. “Description and usage of the Berthollimetre,” Journal des Arts et Manufactures, 1795, I, 256-276
F.-A.-H. Descroizilles, 2. “Notices on the alcali-metre and others chimico-metric tubes, or on the chemical-polymetre and on small alembic for the testing of wines”, Paris, 1824
Between 1788 and 1803, the brilliant chemist was occupied working on filtration (he is although, with the Berthollimetre invention, at the origin of the alcalimetres), and his father (who was also chemist) worked many years on alembics. Descroizille son worked with Fourcroy and Chaptal on saltpetre and was present with them at the french Academy of Sciences from 1795, it is else around these dates that he had the idea to apply is alembic principle to the coffee preparation.
After these revelations and to conclude, I will end with another version of the story that I like as much as the others: this invention was stolen from another man coming from the french noblesse named Guy-Joseph de GIRARD de CHARNACÉ (1760-1847). This story can be found in the memoirs of the bonapartist historian Jacques Marquet de Norvins (baron of Montbreton). In the tome II of his «Souvenirs from a Napoléon historian: Memorial of J. de Norvins» written in 1827, he speaks about his friend and roommate at the la Force jail (we can’t really call it a cell, considering the relative luxury in which they lived) where they were jailed between the 18 fructidor putsch and the one from the 18 brumaire (hence between September 4th 1797 and November 9th 1799). Charnacé is described as «the most harmless and most gastronome of the emigrants».
The day of the Napoléon coup d’Etat, knowing that they will be free soon, they celebrate by taking a meal in good company and end it up with a delicious coffee…
This historian, yet contemporary of De Belloy, is mistaking too on the identity of the supposed Du Belloy inventor (mentioning the cardinal) but his memories are sharp and he says that the coffeemaker that Charnacé had in 1797 was identical to a Dubelloy… at least five years before the invention.
To be continued…
¹ Source : «Archives INPI», with their kind authorization.
² The “cafeolette” from the normand Descroizilles, Passion Généalogie Normande [in french].
³ Part of it reads: «Charnacé, whom grastronomy knowledge was way greater than mine, was in charge of the meal that was excellent and joyful. I always thought he was the inventor of the coffeemaker that took the beautiful name of the de Belloy cardinal: because the one that he was using at the la Force jail, that he had made for him and in which he was distilling with such ability the best coffee I ever had, had with that one a total similitude.»