People prize Parisian cafés for their history, charm and ambience — not necessarily their caffeinated beverages, which are typically unremarkable and frequently bitter and burnt-tasting.
Which might explain why hipsters endure lines at places like Noir, % Arabica and Ten Belles, among the indie coffee roasters that have sprung up in the French capital in recent years, staffed with groovy-looking young baristas pouring smoother brews.
Now Momus, an upstart French coffee brand, seems poised to further disrupt the scene with its couture-like concept. Inside chic white and color-coded boxes the size of paperbacks are blends created by one of France’s most decorated roasting specialists, by a rotating cast of creative personalities — or one crafted to your individual taste.
Momus is the brainchild of Lionel Giraud, a veteran of the fashion industry perhaps best known for his decade-long stint as artistic director of Chaumet. Having also worked in Cartier’s watch division, fashion house Courrèges, shoe chain André and eyewear firm Vuarnet, he brings a wealth of luxury and brand-building expertise to bear on a long-neglected aspect of France’s renowned culinary scene.
“Even when you go to a three-star restaurant, you are likely to find a menu with 30 pages or more for wine, maybe 10 pages for tea, and then at the end you have one line: coffee,” he says. “The average level of the coffee we have to drink is really poor. It bothers me when you have to pay 20 euros for a coffee and you don’t even know where it comes from.
“Coffee is not treated as it should be, especially since it’s the number-two drink in the world after water,” he adds. “Also, coffee is a not only a drink, it’s a lifestyle.”
While Giraud and his friends long toyed with the idea of opening a coffee shop, he turned to the project in earnest during pandemic lockdowns, with the ultimate goal of having a beautiful box of Momus coffee supplant Diptyque candles or a bottle of Champagne as the gift of choice to bring when someone invites you over for dinner.
While he swapped diamond tiaras for basic beans, Giraud says he strives to treat the raw material for Momus the same way, asking himself: “How can we make something very special, very delicate, very high-end?”
His concept for Momus is similar to the way Frédéric Malle markets perfume, adopting the language of French publishing houses and inviting notable talents to write their own recipe for the perfect blend. “It’s a coffee collection for collectors,” Giraud says.
He launched Momus last month with “editions” by chef Stéphane Abby, perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin and fashion curator Olivier Saillard, whose “Chapelle des Bois” blend evokes childhood memories of reading the Sunday paper with his mother over a big steaming pot. Giraud plans to invite a sommelier, novelist, painter and musician for future coffee editions.
There are also nine blends credited to Daniela Capuano, who in 2019 was named Meilleur Ouvrier de France in torréfaction, the French word for coffee roasting. The unique and prestigious award for craftspeople, initiated in 1924, only recently added the coffee category.
For Momus, Capuano sourced beans from prestigious environmentally committed farms in Brazil, Indonesia, Yemen, Panama, Honduras and beyond, roasting them to accentuate notes of caramel, lemongrass, peach, jasmine, chocolate, cinnamon, mango and rose.
Sustainability is intrinsic to Giraud’s concept, with all coffee traceable to a specific plot of land on each farm. “From bean to cup,” he calls it, echoing the farm-to-table movement in restaurants.
To be sure, consumers seem to be turning their backs on wasteful coffee capsules, Giraud says, pointing to a spike in French sales of coffee grinders and coffee makers that use whole beans or ground coffee, the only formats Momus sells.
While his generation of coffee drinkers was weaned on espresso, often excessively roasted to mask defects in the beans, Giraud says that Gen Z and Millennials favor “slow coffee” and long brews that can better exalt the large palette of subtle flavors and aromas fine beans can offer.
For starters, Momus is sold exclusively on its web site, where users can book a free 30-minute video consultation with its in-house barrista, who is stationed in Bordeaux; watch tutorials on using the six main contraptions to brew coffee; read up on all the ready-made blends; put together a selection of 50-gram samples, just like perfume, or create a bespoke blend, with a 400-gram minimum order priced at 45 euros.
“We want to be high-end but customer-driven,” Giraud explains. “It’s a question of education, we’re here to educate new generations.…It is really exciting to try to change something which is deeply ingrained in our culture.”
Momus is named after the mythic 19th-century café near the Louvre where the likes of Charles Baudelaire and Gustave Courbet hobnobbed with other writers and artists. It’s one of the key venues in Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème.”
Giraud hopes to open a flagship Momus store and café in Paris by early next year, and he’s developing a pop-up concept he hopes to install in bookshops and art galleries, in addition to department store gourmet departments.