The Maillard Reaction

L’histoire du Café – The History of Coffee

Coffee Cherries and Seeds | CASSIS
Coffee cherries and seeds before roasting

As legend has it, coffee has its origins in the province of Kaffa, Ethiopia, where a young boy noticed his herd of goats frolicking about while eating red berries. The boy ate some of the berries, too, and became just as jolly as his goats. A monk came upon them and picked some of the berries to take to the brothers – apparently, that evening the monks became especially aware of ‘divine inspiration’! From there on, the beans travelled far and wide, as a foodstuff and as a drink… It is called “une boisson énergisante psychotrope stimulante” – a stimulating psychotropic energy drink! Stories aside, exactly where does this elixir the French call le café come from?

The Place

Coffea, a shrub genus of the Rubiaceae family, is indigenous to tropical areas in Africa and Asia. Today, it is grown right across the world in the Equatorial region, known as the “Bean Belt”. Coffee flourishes in rich, porous soil in steady temperatures with moderate sunshine and rain, so moderate tropical areas are ideal. The country that produces (and consumes) most of the coffee in the world, is Brazil – they grow and supply a third of the world’s coffee, and consume a third of their own harvest! It shouldn’t be too surprising that, of the natural commodities in the world, coffee ranks second to oil.

The Process

Coffee Roasting | CASSIS
Coffee roasting in process

Where does café get its distinct flavours from? The answer is the Maillard reaction – the same reaction that produces the excellent flavours in breads, biscuits, roasted nuts, chocolate, seared steak, whiskey, condensed milk and frites

The Maillard reaction is named after a Frenchman, Louis-Camille Maillard, the chemist who first described what happens when amino acids react with sugars at elevated temperatures in 1912 while attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis.

Basically, it’s all in the roasting. French coffee roasters Cafés Richard call this the “delicate alchemy” of coffee… First, the green seeds called ‘beans’ are harvested from the red fruit called ‘cherries’ (usually two ‘beans’ per cherry). These green coffee beans are then tipped by spindles into a drum and tossed constantly while heated by a current of hot air, which gradually increases the burning temperature. The sugars in the beans caramelise, causing the Maillard chemical reaction, which in turn leads hundreds of flavours to burst forth! The beans start to change in appearance – darkening, losing mass, increasing in size – and lovely aromas arise…

The Song

After the water in the beans have evaporated and the sugars and tannins have been ‘burned up’, the beans start to sing – a distinctive cracking noise, as the carbonic anhydride gases are released. The roaster knows their song, and to this day the coffee roasting process is still finished by ear. Herein lies the ultimate skill and art of café, as stopping a moment too soon or too late could ruin the flavours and aromas. C’est beau! It’s beautiful!

So, next time you relax and enjoy a cup of coffee at CASSIS Pâtisserie et Boulangerie, listen carefully if you can still hear the song of the beans…



Café Life

At CASSIS Pâtisserie et Boulangerie, we celebrate the movement and excitement, as well as the moments of stillness and enrichment, that café culture offers. Throughout the centuries that cafés have filled the shop windows and sidewalks of many a modern city, even reaching small towns and industrial areas, they have always been hubs of liveliness, friendship, inspiration, reflection and creativity.

The popularity of cafés, along with the recreational activities of their patrons, are reflected in the works of famous artists, as the artists themselves used to frequent these cultural melting pots daily – to meet, to eat, to drink and to watch others do the same. In this way, cafés also enabled the social mixing of people from different parts of the city and the world. Not only was the café cuisine rich with seasonal flavours served in quick, light meals – the very atmosphere was simply pulsating with the richness of fresh, new ideas and experiences!

This is what La Belle Époque (‘the Golden Age’) in Paris was all about – a multi-cultural, modern society filled with new opportunities. The turn of the century in France – Paris, especially – signalled a resting period and an era of relative opulence nested between the Franco-Prussian war and World War I. This was also the period when the Eiffel Tower was built for Paris’ World Fair and eventually became a national icon and treasure. La Belle Époque was named ‘the Golden Age’ retrospectively, as people reminisced on this period in the aftermath of the unspeakable terrors of the First World War. The contrast was very great, yet café culture lived on – before, throughout and beyond the times of war!

In this sense, each visit to a café today is not only for a quick cappuccino and a delicious bite to eat while you post your latest social media tidbits, make an appointment or meet your friends… No, it’s a salut to times of peace, prosperity and hospitality! Join us in our passion to relive La Belle Époque, every day, in the Mother City…

CASSIS – a touch of Paris, in the heart of Cape Town.




Butter | CASSIS
Study for Woman Churning Butter by Jean-François Millet

Today we celebrate the two things France loves the most: Women and butter!

Julia Child, the American chef, author and television personality well-known for introducing French cuisine to America in the 1960s, famously said, “With enough butter, anything is good.”

In which other country besides our beloved France are there so many different kinds of this edible gold, consumed by itself in its natural form as often as with every other meal in the day? There is beurre blanc (white butter), beurre fondue (water and butter for poaching), beurre composé (compound butter), beurre Maître d’Hôtel (a type of compound butter), beurre manié (kneaded butter), beurre monté (a butter sauce), beurre noir (black butter), beurre noisette (hazelnut butter; sometimes loosely translated as brown butter), beurre rouge (red butter), tartes au beurre (butter tarts)… Not to mention the famous Hollandaise sauce which is comprised of butter, salt, lemon juice and egg yolk. So delicious! To paraphrase a line from the movie No Reservations (2007): “What are the three secrets of French cuisine? Butter, butter and butter.”

Butter | CASSIS
Antique French butter churner

But, is the buttered-up French lifestyle, especially their food culture so rich in animal fats, really the secret to happier eating and a healthier way of life? In an article on The Guardian website, “The French secret of fat”, French journalist Agnès Poirier investigates the role of butter and other animal fats in the French diet. Although she found that, generally, the French eat more saturated fats than the English and Americans, overall they are healthier. Why is this so? She speculates that this is what is known as “the French paradox”, and that French-American food guru Mireille Guiliano (the author of French Women Don’t Get Fat) is right in saying that the paradox lies in smaller portions that are high in fats, the friendship and sharing of food, and the pleasure of each meal experienced in this manner. It seems the more obsessed you are with choosing the best, simple ingredients and eating good food surrounded by those you love, and the less obsessed you are with how many calories are in the food you eat, the better you feel and the slimmer you are. Essayez donc! So try it!

Butter | CASSIS
Antique French butter churner

At CASSIS Pâtisserie et Boulangerie, we see French dining as a big welcome gesture. Every top-quality, fresh ingredient chosen with utmost consideration, every recipe tried and tested, and every meal served with a smile that says, “Bon appétit!” What you eat reflects your personality and how you feel about your guests – to quote the classical French lawyer-turned-gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” The French culture of eating is a holistic approach to modern living – in other words, good food = good life!

A quote from the movie Julie & Julia (2009): “Let me say this: is there anything better than butter? Think it over; every time you taste something that’s delicious beyond imagining and you say, ‘What is in this?’, the answer is always going to be: butter.” Julie then ends off with: “Here’s my final word on the subject: You can never have too much butter.”

Enjoy your Women’s Day!


“Entertaining is an act of friendship and cooking is an act of love.” 
― Mireille Guiliano in Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility



Daily Bread

Daily bread | CASSIS
CASSIS has a wide range of sensational breads on offer daily

CASSIS Pâtisserie et Boulangerie offers a wide range of breads to satisfy the age-old craving for ‘daily bread’, including French-style breads such as traditional baguette, rich brioche, rustic pain paysan and tasty sour dough loaves, as well as the patented Paillasse artisan bread.

By far the most recognisable of French cultural artefacts, the long, thin loaf of bread known as a baguette is so intrinsically part of the French culinary tradition, that the recipe is even defined by French law – called the Décret Pain of 1993! The decree came about as a result of a decline in the quality of baguettes in the country; this bread is so well-loved and oft-eaten in France, that an outcry from the people made it necessary for the government to institute a standard for the making of traditional baguettes (‘pain de tradition française’).

But, how did this legend of French culture come about? Although long, thin sticks of bread have been enjoyed in France since the mid-eighteenth century, the baguette as we know it only became popularised in the 1920s. The story goes that, when new international labour laws came about in 1919, they prohibited boulangers (bakers) from preparing their baked goods before 4am. This meant that, although the hard-working boulangers had better working hours, they did not have enough time to meet their patrons’ need for fresh bread.

Daily bread | CASSIS
CASSIS breads are baked to perfection – crispy crust, soft inner

It was then that the inventive boulangers developed a faster, better way to produce the delicious foodstuff – by giving it an elongated shape for faster cooking time, as well as baking with special steam-injection ovens known as deck ovens. Deck ovens are typically heated to well over 200 °C (390 °F), using various steam-injection methods. The steam causes the crust to expand before setting, which results in an airier loaf while it also melts the dextrose on the bread’s surface, giving it a slightly glazed crust.

This new process opened a well-spring of beautiful textures and flavours that encompasses all five senses and pleased the heart of every French person, making the baguette the unofficial national emblem it is today. CASSIS takes the French bread tradition seriously and we strive to provide our patrons not only with an assortment of crisp-fresh breads every day, but also well-developed, sophisticated flavours that complement every meal at any time of the day.



Parlez-vous le français?

Do you speak French? Most English-speaking people with basic knowledge of the French language know how to ask this question, typically followed by some jovial laughter around a festive table as the question is unanimously answered with Oui! Oui!

Usually, this signals the end of the dinner table French class and everyone continues eating their delicious French cuisine… Yet, we know much more about French food culture than we think – yes, it is the birthplace of so many foodstuffs we enjoy in our everyday life!



  • Laurens coffeemaker | CASSIS
    Laurens’ coffee percolator design, 1819

    Coffee percolator – The first modern percolator, which featured a tube for the rising of boiling water to form a continuous cycle and was capable of being heated on a kitchen stove, was invented by the Parisian tinsmith, Joseph-Henry-Marie Laurens, in 1819. Ah! The dawn of modern French café culture!

  • Cafetière à piston, or French press – The first basic design for a French press coffee plunger was filed by Frenchmen Mayer and Delforge in 1852.


  • Pasteurisation – The process of pasteurisation was invented by Louis Pasteur in 1864. Most of us know that this process is applied to dairy products, such as milk, to prolong their freshness, but did you know it is also used to preserve other foods like juice, alcohol, nuts, vinegar, syrups, eggs and even water!? Thanks Louis!


  • Henri Charpentier | CASSIS
    Chef Henri Charpentier, the inventor of the crêpe

    Crêpe – The most famous dish in France! Legend has it that these scrumptious thin pancakes were apparently accidentally invented by fourteen-year-old Henri Charpentier in 1895, then head-waiter at Monte Carlo’s Café de Paris. He was preparing a dessert for the Prince of Wales and describes the creation of the crêpe in a published book about his life.

  • Viennoiseries – surprisingly, the croissant was not initially invented by the French, but is part of a whole array of French delicatessens called viennoiseries (‘things of Vienna’)… These Viennese-style baked goods first became popular in France when Austrian entrepreneur August Zang opened his Viennese Bakery (Boulangerie Viennoise) in Paris, in 1839. The first time the expression ‘pâtisseries viennoises’ appeared, is in a book published in 1877 titled Le Nabab, by the French author Alphonse Daudet. But it was the French, and not the Viennese, who started making viennoiseries using puff pastry instead of yeast-leavened dough – and so the Austrian kipfel became the French croissant we know and love!


  • Margarine – This vegetable oil-based substance was invented by Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès in 1869 in response to a challenge from Napoleon III to create a replacement for butter for the French armed forces and lower class. It is a very versatile food substance, but we at CASSIS still prefer to use real French butter!

The list of delicacies, ingredients and culinary improvements that France has graced us with goes on and on – baguettes, champagne, escargot, ratatouille… not to mention the hundreds of distinct French cheeses! CASSIS chefs and pâtissiers delight in experimentation with high quality ingredients and variation on traditional French recipes. Join us in our passion by visiting any one of our outlets for an authentic French gastronomic experience!


Article references:

French cuisine in the heart of Cape Town

CASSIS Pâtisserie et Boulangerie was founded in Cape Town with the same principles of on-trend and seasonal cuisine made with the freshest, highest quality traditional French ingredients, served in an opulent yet relaxed café environment surrounded by contemporary design and art. CASSIS serves more than appetising light meals, freshly baked bread and scrumptious cakes and desserts: we offer our patrons an enriching pause in their busy modern lifestyle. Our passion is to relive the Belle Époque, every day, in the Mother City…

CASSIS – a touch of Paris, in the heart of Cape Town.