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?
6 thoughts on “Chicory, a taste of home”
Ha, the other week Bobby and I were at Fresh Market – we always make a stop at the coffee sample station. Without much thought, I went for the New Orleans blend and nearly spit it out after taking a sip. Let’s just say, while I’m obsessed with so much about New Orleans, the chicory coffee never caught my heart. 😉 It’s funny though because the cafe au lait always tasted so yummy to me! Maybe it’s because the flavor is so mellowed out by the milk? I didn’t know that Japan had Cafe du Monde! As for the taste that reminds me of home, it will forever by good, Irish black tea. Mmm!
Grace, I’m just getting around to reading these comments now. Thank you so much.
Chicory coffee is definitely an acquired taste! I have a lot of friends who don’t like it, and when I introduced my Japanese supervisor to it the first time, she didn’t love it. However, she really likes it made with condensed milk like in a Vietnamese Iced Coffee (cà phê đá).
One of my college friends brought me a can that she had found in the International part of a Cub Foods grocery store. I think it’s associated with Asian foods sometimes because of the connection!
Japan has 17 Cafe Du Mondes, more locations than the US! I think some Japanese businessmen visited the one in NOLA and loved it so much, they asked to franchise it.
And yes, cafe au laits definitely mellow out the bite of chicory. I’m glad to know you like them! I know you’re not a coffee person, but it’s good to know one coffee drink you like.
Irish black tea is great too! Do you have it with milk?
ALWAYS have my Irish tea with milk. 🙂 It’s the Irish in me. I’m starting to become very attune to how my body feels even with a little bit of caffeine, though, and I’m beginning to believe that I’m just not built for it. (The Irish tea I drink is actually decaf, so I don’t face any problems.) The other day, though, I had some sips of Bobby’s DELICIOUS cafe au lait and my brain felt fuzzy for much of the day. :/ Guess I’m a green juice girl!
Oh no! I’m sorry to hear your body has such a negative reaction to caffeine. One of my friends is the same way, she only has decaf tea and coffee. I haven’t noticed anything yet, but I’m thinking I should try a decaf week just to see if I feel a difference. I got some decaf Irish tea last week and have been drinking it with milk. It is a delicious combo!
As more and more people move to New Orleans, chicory coffee is becoming harder to find. Specifically uptown, at places like Hi-Volt which are owned by non-new orleaneans, they don’t serve it at all. It’s a shame because although chicory is definitely an acquired taste, it is such a special taste for those of us who grew up on it.
Coming to New Orleans is like going to anywhere else in the world with a distinct culture- you adapt yourself to it, and we deserve the respect of not having our culture phased outz
That’s so strange! I just had a New Yorker tell me her favorite place to get coffee was Blue Bottle because she loved the cafe au lait made with chicory coffee. I don’t know of Hi-Volt, but I guess it makes sense that if the owner doesn’t like it/know of it, they wouldn’t stock it. It is a weird taste…whenever I introduce people to it, they are surprised.
I don’t think chicory would ever be phased out though. 🙂 People will always clamor over Cafe Du Monde. Still, it’s a bummer to hear that it’s become harder to find.