Culinary Bucket List: Chicory Coffee

One of the horrors of my life so far is that I haven’t been to New Orleans. Nope, I’ve never strolled the French Quarter past the wrought-iron trellises as jazz wafts through the air. And now I’m way too old and modest to road trip to Mardi Gras to drink hurricanes, flash my goods for beads and stumble around Bourbon Street. I kind of regret that I didn’t visit before Katrina, though now the city gets to show off its pluck and battle scars, which can only give it more character.

I’ve always thought New Orleans would have the same sensibility as Savannah, since they share deep historical roots, stifling humidity, a dark undercurrent of voodoo and mysticism and a general style of “elegant decay.” This is shameful to admit, but a lot of what I know about New Orleans is only pieced together from scenes in The Pelican Brief, those Zatarain’s commercials or The Real World: New Orleans. But I hear it’s a great foodie town. And that brings me to the next item on my culinary bucket list.

Today’s Eatocracy blog has a nice roundup on traditional New Orleans fare, and there are a lot of things listed that I’ve never eaten. I’ve never tasted true filé gumbo, sucked the brains out of a crawdad, enjoyed a shrimp po’ boy or a mouth-searing dish of jambalaya. I am confounded by something called étouffée, but I do enjoy saying it over and over again. Of all those foodie experiences though, my number one goal is to someday enjoy a cup of chicory coffee.

Photo credit: mharvey.nyc, Flickr

I don’t even know what chicory coffee is, but it sounds mysterious and decadent. From what I understand, folks back in the day added ground chicory root to coffee to stretch it when they didn’t have the money for or couldn’t get coffee. Think soldiers on the battlefield or pioneer families isolated in the mountains. Camp Coffee, a chicory-coffee blend that was created in the late 1800’s, is apparently a nostalgia item in Scotland. Louisiana’s version was created during the Civil War when the Union naval blockade cut off coffee shipments to its port. Somehow it just became tradition.

I keep reading that the chicory coffee makes a thick, “malty” brew that is much more bitter or acidic than regular coffee. The place to get it in New Orleans is the famed Café du Monde, where they mix it half-and-half with steamed milk and call it a café au lait. The proper experience is to drink it alongside an order of French beignets. Fried dough with sugar? Twist my arm.

Café du Monde has a few other outposts, notably in the Atlanta Underground, but I just don’t think that would be the same. Someday I’ll have to wrestle my way through the tourists and a have a real, authentic New Orleans café au lait.

Have you ever had chicory coffee? Have I really been missing out, or is it not worth all the fuss?

Click here to view the other items on my Culinary Bucket List.

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6 thoughts on “Culinary Bucket List: Chicory Coffee

  1. OMG I love New Orleans. I’m happy to say I visited before Hurricane Katrina came through and ravaged that gorgeous city. One of my favorite memories is sipping on a cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. That place is a true landmark and certaily worth visitng. I do hope one day you make a trip to N.O. Two words for you: Anne Rice. If you’ve enjoyed her books, you would LOVE this place!

  2. I’ve been to New Orleans twice now. Once for the debauchery of Mardi Gras in college and once for a business conference. They were completely different experiences as you might imagine. I was able to have a Shrimp Po Boy when I was there for the business trip and those are truly an awesome experience. White bread, mayo, fried shrimp and shredded lettuce – YUM. It was possibly the best sandwich I’ve ever had. Definitely try that when you go… I didn’t get a chance to get to the beignets, but I spoke to lots of people that did and they loved it. However, I missed the excitement over the coffee?

    I did however have some awesome southern food when I was there. Lots of items were fried, the good ‘ole fashion southern way. 🙂

    H

  3. Wow. Timing. Just left there. All I had time for was the po boy. I agree about Mardi gras & left today, the first day of Mardi gras. I hope you get there soon!

  4. That’s the only kind of coffee that I ever drink. I live in New Orleans. Most sold are medium and dark roast C&C. I always drank the dark roast brewed extra strong.

    • Hi John! Thanks — you are the expert! What’s the best place for chicory coffee in New Orleans? Do I brave the crowds at Cafe du Monde, or is there a better place for the locals?

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