September 28, 2023

Coffee Ordering

Devoted To Marvelous Coffee

How New Orleans Made Chicory Coffee Its Own

How New Orleans Made Chicory Coffee Its Own

If you get coffee in New Orleans—at a restaurant, someone’s house, an office, or anywhere that pre-gentrification New Orleanians exist—it’ll likely contain the rich, complex, roasty, toasty flavor of dried chicory root. Coffee with chicory is what New Orleanians are used to. It’s a smell that comforts us, and a familiar childhood taste. As a native New Orleanian, coffee without chicory feels thin and hollow to me. It’s just flat, like something’s missing.

To me, coffee in the rest of America is so busy: flavored syrups, cold foam, different roasts and origins, multiple mock milks. Not so with New Orleans coffee with chicory! The chicory coffee purists among us will add sweetener and milk at most. Some of the trendier coffee shops in New Orleans don’t even offer coffee with chicory, and I suspect it’s because they know they can’t upsell it with all the extras as they do with other coffees. Pagoda Cafe is the only hip coffee place I can think of that even serves chicory coffee (but if I want coffee and chicory at a coffee shop, I’m going to CC’s).

Available at iconic local spots like Café Du Monde, coffee with chicory has been a part of New Orleans for many generations, remaining mostly unchanged throughout the more than 150 years since it became a thing here. If you ask me, that commitment to tradition is an overarching characteristic of New Orleans, one that makes my native and ancestral land so special. Sure, it can be frustrating, like when you come across cash-only businesses, but it can also be charming, like when we “pass the time of day,” or greet everyone with a “good morning” or “good evening.” 

But you don’t even need to visit New Orleans to have coffee with chicory. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, anyone can buy CDM coffee and chicory online, the same brand you’ll find in our houses and offices. Then, once you’ve gotten a taste for the stuff, you can branch out with coffee and chicory pods from Louisiana-based Community Coffee, liquid coffee and chicory concentrates from CoolBrew, or even bags of roasted ground chicory from New Orleans Roast, which you can blend into dark roast coffee using your preferred ratio.

CDM Coffee With Chicory

$19.00, Amazon

How did New Orleanians start adding chicory to their coffee?

How did coffee blended with chicory—which is really the root of the chicory plant—even get to New Orleans? In 1989, William B. Reily III (then owner of Reily Foods, which owns CDM coffee) told the Times-Picayune that New Orleans’s history with chicory goes all the way back to the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s. “European blockades disrupted trade and coffee became scarce. By then, people were pretty hooked on coffee, and they were trying to figure out what the hell to do,” he said. “They added chicory to help stretch their coffee. They found out it’s an active ingredient rather than a filler. It changed the coffee for the better and gave it a different taste, unlike purposefully inconspicuous fillers. It perked up the coffee. When coffee was available again, they stayed with the chicory habit.” When many of those Europeans eventually immigrated to New Orleans, they brought coffee and chicory with them.

At the turn of the 20th century, coffee with chicory was almost always a matter of cost, regardless of convenience. “Now that it is becoming so difficult to secure coffees at any price which are really palatable, it is worth remembering that a mixture of coffee and chicory will give a beverage which we have diligently sought for but so often failed to find…” a May 1908 article in The Daily Picayune suggested.

In addition to being easier to obtain and usually more cost effective than plain coffee, coffee with chicory was believed to be more suitable for sipping. “A small quantity of chicory added to good coffee improved the flavor and reduced the peculiar nervous effect of coffee,” reads a March 1908 bulletin from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And in 1921, there was even a chicory discussion and information session put on by the New Orleans Housewives’ League.

During World War I, the price of chicory rose until it was higher than that of coffee. But by then, the “chicorans” had grown accustomed to chicory in their coffee. Due largely in part to this price change, some bad actors began selling coffee with fake chicory. People were desperate for what they’d grown accustomed to, so scammers knew people would still buy it if they thought they’d lucked up and found it during the ban. A 1919 Times-Picayune article reported that adulterants such as roasted peas, beans, carrots, parsnips, wood dust, and even dried horse and fox livers were used in place of chicory. Instead of those wild choices, the author wondered why not something that makes more sense and has been used similarly before, like blackstrap and tobacco.

How do you make chicory coffee?

Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with such substitutions today, as chicory remains inexpensive and plentiful. If you’re in New Orleans, Café Du Monde is still the most famous place for the quintessential New Orleans morning treat: beignets and café au lait, which is a 50-50 blend of coffee with chicory and milk. If you can’t get here, you can still make your own beignets and coffee at home.

My personal favorite place for coffee and chicory is Ba Mien Vietnamese restaurant in New Orleans East. They bring out the phin (a small coffee instrument), containing coffee and chicory grounds in super hot water, on a saucer, accompanied by either a coffee cup containing a few spoons of sweetened condensed milk for cà phê sữa nóng or a similarly filled tumbler of ice for cà phê sữa đá.


$15.00, Nguyen Coffee Supply

I generally buy coffee and chicory that’s already combined, whether that’s grounds, pods, or liquid concentrates. However, if you wanted to experiment, you could buy dark roast coffee grounds and roasted ground chicory from New Orleans Roast and blend it yourself. The standard ratio is about 4:1 coffee to chicory. If you have any leftover chicory, you can add it to recipes or drink by itself.

Most Louisianians—especially New Orleanians—are hesitant to change, and we love to do our own thing. We think in parishes, not counties; G-Nikes, not Air Force 1s; cold drinks, not sodas. Coffee and chicory is another one of those things we will never change, even if we move away.

New Orleans Coffee and Chicory in the Vietnamese Style

Megan Braden-Perry

Originally Appeared on Epicurious

More cooking tips from Epicurious