I’m not sure when or by whom the café gourmand was invented, but it might be the best thing to come out of France since Thierry Henry. I had the pleasure of ordering my first one during a visit to Lille at the beginning of the year and I immediately liked the idea: instead of ordering a dessert, then a coffee, you are served your petit noir with a few (not so little) delicious nibbles. Gorgeous. I had several during these past two weeks holidaying in France and as I tried to think of a translation, I hit a stumbling block. The only adjective that came to me was “greedy”, but how could I associate such a negative word with happiness on a plate? The best translation I can come up with for gourmand/e (as an adjective and a noun) is “someone who loves his/her food”. When used as an adjective with an inanimate object, as in café gourmand or région gourmande, it means that this object will be appreciated by gourmandes and gourmands.
“Greedy” and “voracious” are, in fact, close to the original meaning of this word. After all, la gourmandise est un vilain défaut and is one of the capital sins. Nowadays, however, it is no longer the case: this term has lost its negative connotations. A gourmand/e is someone who loves eating, and no judgment is passed on this trait. So how did this word go from being one of the capital sins to turn into a positive characteristic?
This article on gourmandise and sin explains that from a moralistic point of view, the search for pleasure, of which the gourmand/e is guilty, is a vice which can lead to excess and must be condemned. This can be explained by the lack of resources in centuries past, when gourmandise was a threat to the equitable share of food. In our societies of abundance, this trait is no longer dangerous for others. A gourmand/e, who is now seen as someone who loves food and sharing moments of pleasure, is no longer suspect, as the Supplique au Pape pour enlever la gourmandise de la liste des péchés capitaux (Plea to the Pope to take gourmandise off the list of capital sins) presented to His Holiness in 2003 shows. No replies as yet.
I also learnt another meaning for gourmand while talking to my mother about my tomato plants. She told me that I must pick off the gourmands, which are the sideshoots that grow between the main stem and a leaf (aisselle).

By |2016-10-18T15:49:01+00:00October 6th, 2009|Words|10 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Stuart Mudie October 6, 2009 at 11:04 am

    In English, I might call this a “Gourmet Coffee”. And you’re right, it’s an excellent invention!

  2. céline October 6, 2009 at 11:07 am

    I agree, despite the semantic difference between “gourmet” and “gourmand”, it would be a good option.

  3. Jane October 6, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Thank you ! Every time I walk past my totally-out-of-control vine, I remember one of my neighbours patiently explaining to me that ‘il faut couper les gourmands’ to expose the grapes to more sunshine and make them sweeter. I recall every detail of how she told me to do it (although I have yet to passe à l’acte) but I have, until just now, been totally unable to recall what she called them. Since then, I’ve often stood looking at these offending stalks, and saying to myself – what did she call them ? – so thanks a lot !

  4. Matthew October 6, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    For what it’s worth, a “gourmand” in the tomato-plant sense is called a “sucker” in English. I’ve heard it said that this is because these side shoots “suck” the energy away from fruit production, but I’m not sure if that’s the true etymology or not!

  5. MM October 6, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    But we say gourmand too – it entered the language a long time ago. I just checked the OED and it has the adjective recorded first in 1530, and the noun in 1491 in the negative sense, and 1758 in the sense ‘one who is fond of delicate fare; a judge of good eating. In this sense only partially anglicized, and often pronounced (a bit like the French)’.

  6. céline October 7, 2009 at 6:18 am

    @Jane: To think I almost didn’t include this last paragraph, as it “tombe comme un cheveu sur la soupe”. I’m pleased I did now.
    @Matthew: Thanks, I’ve found references to “suckers” used in the same way as “gourmands” and actually, it describes their action better than @Jane’s neighbours did:: the problem is not so much that they block the sun, but that they divert the plant’s energy resources from the branches bearing fruit.
    @MM: Interesting, but unlike “gourmet”, I’ve never heard it used by English-speakers.

  7. MM October 7, 2009 at 8:28 am

    It may be necessary to use something more basic for customers who aren’t used to talking about food or are relatively uneducated. It really is a standard term, but I see the British National Corpus only gives five hits.

  8. céline October 7, 2009 at 8:42 am

    If it ever comes to the English-speaking world, I’m sure some marketing genius will find a catchy name for it, but then borrowing the French term might be a better idea: people will understand what it is and having a French name can’t harm a dessert.

  9. Katherine October 10, 2009 at 3:14 am

    I agree with MM, English has the word gourmand too, so depending on the restaurant, you could say either coffee gourmand or cafe gourmand. But I would say only language lovers or intellectual types would understand the reference. I thought of gourmet at first too, but you can have ‘gourmet coffee’ and its just coffee.
    Most likely in English we would not refer to the coffee at all, but call it something like a dessert plate or dessert sampler, and just explain it comes with coffee.
    I hope they do bring it over here though, sounds yummy!

  10. Elizabeth October 13, 2009 at 4:38 am

    I think there’s already a word out there in English for just this thing! I read an article about it in the Russian Gastronom magazine and now it will torment me until I get back home and look it up! Argh!

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