Calvados and coffee reunite

01 July, 2024

An old tradition is getting a new lease of life as a historic serve finds new fans. Shay Waterworth has the background.

In the 17th century coffee was introduced to Europe with mixed appraisal. It was condemned by the local clergy in Venice in 1615 before Pope Clement VIII gave his approval having been asked to intervene. From there, public coffee houses began to emerge in the continent’s major cities and by the 18th century the beverage was widespread – replacing beer and wine as the breakfast bevvy. That being said, in the French region of Normandy booze and coffee were combined with the ritual of adding calvados to create the Café Calva (or Calva Café).

The tradition of mixing calvados with coffee was prevalent across the major cities of France until the 1980s, when the image of calvados evolved into a sipping digestif. However, for the past 10 years Christian Drouin has been leading a revival.

“We have always liked to value the traditions of calvados. Café Calva is known throughout the world as a historic marriage. It combines the strength and bitterness of coffee with that of calvados,” says Guillaume Drouin, third generation and president director general at Christian Drouin.

“When my father first started distributing calvados in 1980s, most of it was sold in a Café Calva. At this time a lot of it wasn’t very good calvados but the coffee would hide that, but since then the market has diversified and I’d say just two or three per cent of calvados is consumed as a Café Calva. From the ’80s, calvados became a digestif spirit but we’ve found it fun to bring back coffee culture to the category.”

Attempts to revive the Café Calva come at a time when coffee culture has never been richer. Independent coffee roasters, premium coffee shops and oat milk iced lattes are rife across Europe’s major cities.

As part of its campaign, Christian Drouin visited Brûlerie de Belleville – one of the best coffee roasters and distributors in Paris. After pairing different coffee blends with its range of calvados, its unaged blanche was the preferred style.

To generate further interest in Paris, the brand also created a map of the best Café Calva destinations in the city, while the Interprofession des Appellations Cidricoles (IDAC) has been advertising the serve on metro and bus stations.

“It’s important to me and to the brand to be big in our home country,” adds Drouin. “It’s become easier in recent years to grow our presence in France because calvados is getting trendy once again. The younger consumers are much more open minded than they were 20 years ago and prominence is more important to them.

“Paris will always be one of our biggest focuses, but the Olympics will also be a great opportunity to expose foreign visitors to calvados for sure. We also had the anniversary of the French liberation in June which saw more than 2.5 million people visit the landing beaches and we experienced a lot of American tourists visiting the distillery.”


Beyond the coffee revival, Christian Drouin continues to push innovation with its Experimental range – an annual series of calvados finished in different casks, from cognac to bourbon to tequila. For the ninth edition, the brand partnered with Isle of Arran distillery to create its first brandy aged in Scotch whisky casks.

Drouin says: “In the year 2000 Arran Distillery wanted to use calvados casks to mature its whisky in, so we sent them about 20 casks. I then phoned them to ask about using some of their barrels as part of our Experimental series, and they still had the same ones we sent more than 20 years ago.”

The premium price point of these releases – upwards of €100 - positions them at the upper end of the market, but Drouin insists this will attract more people into the category.

“We have some collectors for sure, there’s a few that have all nine of them, but we also see it as bridging the gap between drinkers of fine spirits and calvados. For example, those who are already fans of the Arran Distillery and similar Scotch whiskies will be able to relate to the latest release, which may draw in some new consumers. We’re always trying to expand our horizons. We wake up every morning wanting to spread calvados around the world and educate consumers. We currently export to 65 countries but we’re always open to new markets. We’re seeing good progress in Asia recently.”

When it comes to volume, IDAC data for 2023 saw declines domestically and overseas (-1.95% and -1.23% respectively) while 51.1% of total volumes were international.

“While this slight decline can alert our distilleries, it should not overshadow some reasons for satisfaction,” says Jean-Luc Pignol, president of the IDAC. “We have regained a collective dynamic, with volumes equivalent to those of 2019 and demand that remains steadfast in an economic environment that is nonetheless tense and uncertain. Let’s emphasise our commitment to ‘value’ by continuing our work in innovation and upgrading and significantly increasing our impact on the French and international markets.”

The innovation mentioned by Pignol is not only the development of new styles and products, but the revival of once-lost traditions such as the Café Calva. Given the booming demand for coffee-fuelled serves such as the Espresso Martini, the Café Calva is bang on trend. It also has provenance, an interesting history and, ultimately, it’s improved in quality since the ’80s. The next step is to get the serve recognised overseas, and turn the Café Calva into an international ritual. Perhaps the summer Olympics is the perfect springboard.

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