Gourmet Coffee and Chicory: A New Orleans Tradition
One of the most distinctive regional coffee preferences in the U.S. comes from the great state of Louisiana and specifically from the colorful city of New Orleans. While walking through the lively French Quarter, you will notice many cafes that serve a less than typical brew, chicory coffee. The natural next question is, what the heck is chicory and why is it in my coffee? The story of this coffee tradition goes back many years, let’s take a look.
The History of Chicory & Coffee
Chicory is a beautiful plant that usually has blue dandelion-like flowers. It’s specifically the root of this plant that when roasted and ground, is found in this traditional coffee beverage. Coffee chicory is grown throughout the world but most commonly in Europe, South Africa and the U.S. While chicory as a food source dates back thousands of years to the Egyptians, its common use as a coffee additive or substitute didn’t arise until the early 1800s. It became prevalent at this time in France during the reign of Napoleon where an established blockade limited access to coffee beans that were imported by the British.
After the blockade was lifted, the French still added chicory to their coffee because they developed a preference for the flavor and perceived health benefits. Throughout the 19th century, France and places with French influence, like Louisiana, continued to drink coffee and chicory well after coffee became widely accessible. With that said, as the years went by, there was a steady decline in chicory coffee as coffee production and consumption continued to grow. New Orleanians specifically have retained this adoration for chicory coffee and continue to drink more of this blend than any other area in the U.S.
What Does Chicory Coffee Taste Like?
Chicory does taste similar to coffee, but there are distinctive flavor differences. When paired together, many feel chicory is a nice complement adding a bit of a nutty, woody and distinctive chocolate flavor to the coffee. The darker color and aromatics of roasted chicory often lend to the popular opinion that it makes the coffee stronger while also cutting the bitterness of a dark roast. For big producers of chicory coffee, the blend of the two often lends itself to a consistent cup. The strength of the combination makes for a great café au lait, which is the most common way it is consumed in New Orleans, a mixture of half chicory coffee and half steamed milk. A fun fact about chicory is that it is entirely caffeine free so while it may increase the coffee’s strength that doesn’t translate to higher caffeine content. Also, you will hear chicory proponents claim various health benefits, but many have never been scientifically proven.
Is Chicory Coffee Here to Stay?
Flip over some of your favorite specialty coffee drinks in the grocery store and it isn’t entirely uncommon to see chicory as an additive. In many ways, some of the biggest names in specialty coffee have brought new life to this drink and exposed many to this regional favorite. The unique attributes of chicory make a delicious coffee drink that is tough to hate on. Whether you’re in the French Quarter or grabbing a New Orleans style iced coffee from the market, chicory seems to be holding strong to its place in our cups and hearts. Thanks NOLA!