The time is October of 1793. The place is Varennes-en-Argonne, France, where Marie Antionette, her husband King Louis XVI and her immediate family had fled back in June to escape the angry crowds growing in Paris challenging the Royals grip on their absolute power over France. After the storming of the Bastille in July, the handwriting was on the wall that the French revolution was growing and likely inevitable.
But Marie was not a woman to be challenged lightly. Despite accusations of self-indulgence, infidelity and arrogance, she remained true to her character, one used to the finest and not used to compromising.
“What is this swill I am drinking?!,” she complained as she banged the fine bone china cup into the saucer and turned to her hand maiden.
“Coffee, madam,” the poor girl timidly answers.
“It tastes like it was brewed in the stable and a horse urinated in the pot. Take it away and bring me some fresh coffee. Ask chef to come in here and see me.”
The maid collects the coffee tray and hastily exits with it. In the kitchen she sets it down and addresses the chef. “Madam is not happy with the coffee. She wants to see you.”
“Sacré bleu. The insufferable wretch,” he blurts out. “Oh, well, just another day in the palace.” He exits.
Louis enters the room and announces, “Marie, my dear, I’m afraid we don’t have much time left here. Word comes that the throngs have found our location and are on their way.”
“Oh, merde! Can’t anything go right? I can’t even get a good cup of coffee!” she barks. “Where is that chef, anyway?”
“The peasant uprising is approaching and you’re worried about coffee?” the King responds.
“Never mind. I’ll find him myself,” she rises and impatiently leaves the room. Rushing down the stairs she sees the chef approaching. “Turn around,” she orders him, “we’re going back to the kitchen!”
The Queen takes chef by the arm and drags him back to the kitchen. “All right,” she starts, “where are the coffee beans? Tell me all about them.”
“Well, your majesty–”
“Cut the formalities and get to the beans,” she interrupts.
He walks her to a cabinet and opens the doors to reveal various containers. “These are the various raw coffee beans from different regions.” Pointing to each one, “These are from the Buglsu from Africa. These are the Monsooned Malabar from India. These are the Sumatra from Indonesia. The Supremo from Columbia. And the Santos from Brazil. They each have a distinct flavor and body.” He opens one container and offers her some beans, which she examines and smells.
“What was that weak tea I just had?”
“Oh, that was from the American colonies,” he answers nonchalantly.
“My coffee should be like our soldiers: strong and well developed. How do you prepare these beans?”
“We roast them in iron skillets over fire and then grind them in that grinder over there,” chef explains. “Then we mix with hot water and filter out the grounds. If your majesty wants a stronger brew we can add more grounds to the water.”
“Yes, yes, let’s make some now,” the Queen enthusiastically orders, as she removes her outer garment to get down to work.
The two go through the entire process from bean to cup and chef pours the final result for the Queen to taste. She sips. “It’s not strong enough,” she opines.
“Very well,” chef says, “let try again with more grounds.” Some minutes later, the second batch is reading for tasting. She tries again. “It’s still not strong enough. And the flavor is not bold enough. Can’t you cook the beans more? Burn them if you have to.”
Chef complies. They go through the entire process a third time with more cooking, more grounds, and a final product ready to taste. The Queen takes a sip and smiles. “Now that’s a coffee worthy of a Frenchman.”
Loud noises emanate from outside as an angry crowd surrounds the castle. Shouting and banging grows louder. A guard rushes into the room. “They’ve taken the King!” he screams.
“Grab that pot of coffee. We’re heading to the tower,” the Queen orders. They rush to the stairs, but before they get halfway up the first flight, the great wooden doors come crashing in and an angry mob begins to enter. The Queen stops to view the scene with disdain.
“There she is!” the peasant leader calls out.
“What do you want?” says Marie Antoinette with contempt.
“You live in luxury while the people have no bread,” he yells.
She thinks for a moment and responds, “Let them eat cake… and give them some coffee while you’re at it.”
Needless to say, Marie Antoinette had just invented and had her last cup of French Roast coffee.