If you drink a cup of coffee in New Orleans, it’s likely coffee brewed with chicory. It’s a unique flavor with an interesting origin story.
According to local lore, the French brought coffee to America through the port of New Orleans. When France was in a civil war (thanks to Napoleon), there was a coffee shortage. People began adding chicory to their brew to make their supply of beans last longer. Although chicory has no caffeine, its root has a similar taste to coffee.
Chicory, Cichorium intybus, is a “woody, perennial, herbaceous plant” in the dandelion family. It has bright blue flowers, but it’s the root that is ground as a coffee additive (and sometimes as an entire substitute to coffee).
The mixture of coffee and chicory made its way to the French colonies, and when the US entered a civil war and coffee supply was once again limited, New Orleanians turned to chicory coffee. Even after the war, this blend stuck around and has become a quintessential ingredient of the New Orleans experience. The French Quarter café, Café Du Monde, serves its famous café au lait (half chicory coffee, half hot milk) and beignets.
Notice how smoothly those French words run together, café au lait, beignet, café au lait, beignet, café au lait, beignet…If words could be eaten, those would be as delicious as the edibles that inspired them.
I grew up drinking chicory coffee. I vividly remember the first café au lait my grandmother made for me. I never really knew what other coffees tasted like until I went to college and had to buy my own coffee beans. It took me a long time to find coffee could be just as delicious without its companion chicory. Still, chicory coffee is the taste of home to me.
When I lived in Japan for a year, I sought out the Café Du Monde locations there (the only place in the world other than New Orleans that has them). The 1,000 miles of ocean between Kyoto and New Orleans didn’t feel nearly so far with a warm cup of café au lait between my hands.
Café au Lait Recipe
- 1/2 cup brewed coffee with chicory
- 1/2 cup scalded milk and cream mix
Do you have a specific taste that reminds you of home?