I had a regular customer come into my shop one day and she has just returned from a vacation to New Orleans and brought in a tin can of Cafe de Monde Chicory Ground Coffee and asked me if I had ever tried it.
Up and until that point I had heard about it a couple times here and there but that was about it. She asked me if I would brew up a cup from the coffee that she had brought in. Since I was curious about it, I said sure.
Once we brewed up a batch, we each had a cup of it black and I have to admit that I loved its unique flavor and unusual taste. I thought as I continued to drink the coffee that it could be something I could add to my drink menu as it does have a lot of potential if paired with some fresh roasted coffee and the chicory was added at the time of brewing.
So I decided to find out what was the history of Chicory in Coffee and why was New Orleans so famous for it. This is what I found out:
First Things First, What Is Chicory?
Chicory has been around for more than two centuries but it has gained more popularity recently. Chicory is a root vegetable from the dandelion family plant that grows in the wild. The flowering plant is very close to the endive and generally has blue flowers but could also have white or pink but that is a rarity.
The History of Chicory
Even though we are not aware of its origin, some people believe that it originated from the Mediterranean regions. The long history of this plant dates back to ancient Egypt.
People have been cultivating chicory for various reasons and you will find it all over the world. The ancient Egyptians used this plant due to its medicinal properties, while the Greeks, Romans, and Turks used the leaves as vegetables when preparing salads and some other key dishes.
The plant has a bitter taste, which influenced people from different cultures to use it for some other purposes, such as an animal feed, stimulator, and a coffee grounds substitute. After nearly 5,000 years, Chicory landed in Northern America, particularly the southern regions.
Chicory became one of the key exports for European countries around the 19th century. Due to its popularity, the chicory spice spread all over the continent – from Belgium to Holland, Denmark, and Germany. Although German women adopted it as a daily product, it was a household choice in France. The coffee makers took the root of this plant, grounded and roasted it before brewing it with coffee.
Health Benefits Of Chicory
Studies show that excess caffeine intake can aggravate stress. Actually, repeated consumption of caffeine along with stress can heighten your cortisol levels and worsen the situation. Chicory does not contain any caffeine. By taking it instead of coffee, you will minimize your caffeine consumption and lower your stress levels.
Studies have also shown that the chicory root extracts can heighten adiponectin levels in the body. Adiponectin is the protein responsible for the regulation of blood glucose levels in the body. That way, it delays and prevents the onset of diabetes. Still, another study showed that people could use chicory extract as a dietary supplement to prevent the progression of diabetes.
A study conducted in the year 2015 showed that chicory root extracts could effectively prevent the effects of free radicals on the liver and therefore cut the risks for liver toxicity. The extracts prevent cell damages and oxidative stress in the liver. If used along with celery leaves, it could minimize liver disease symptoms. The root can treat some liver injuries in some circumstance.
Chicory And New Orleans
Because New Orleans stood as the largest trading port of France in North America, coffee had become a key part of the New Orleans Culture. Coffee plantations characterised the region and the workers grabbed warm cups of coffee from the Creole maidens who sold them in French Quarters. By the year 1840, the New Orleans port stood as the second largest coffee importer in the US.
New Orleans was a leader in the coffee industry for over two decades, but the situation changed after the Civil War prevented ships from reaching the port.
The locals were so desperate for coffee that they started experimenting with various natural products to make the taste that they had grown to love. Just as their France ancestors did, they adopted chicory as the perfect coffee substitute.
Over the years, they used chicory during the economic struggle times and after the supply of coffee was very low. Their struggle for coffee made chicory a key staple.
Today, chicory is an ingredient that has made New Orleans coffee unique and popular. The locals believe that chicory is part of the city’s culture and tradition and they will tell you that it has a great taste and it is wonderfully unique. However, they are unlikely to tell you that chicory offers many health benefits.
With Indians blending it into their teas and the Egyptians used it as a medicine, it is evident that the plant can fight against various ailments like jaundice, arthritis, and gout and help save some of the body organs. When drinking it, you should be certain that you are drinking something that is part of a unique culture and something that has a great taste.
Why Cafe Du Monde Is Famous For Chicory Coffee (and Beignets)
Dignitaries, debutantes, anglers, and farmers lined up to get some powdered beignet and the caffeine buzz – they were commonest social equalizers. With the cups of coffee and the sticky fingers, the class differences were no more and the hierarchy flattened. People were there to mix sweetness and bitterness – it was simple.
People have brewed chicory coffee for many centuries. In the late 1700s, the beans passed through the ports of the Caribbean and Cuba. By the 18th century, people were retailing them in New Orleans and could use it in their homes. Coffee stalls came up in the French Market.
Rose Nicaud, one of the freed slaves, managed to attract many customers by simply calling out some of her famous brews. People could easily describe her coffee as they would describe other products.
Fred Koeniger started peddling caffeine in 1862 in his French Market stall. That was the Café du Monde. Even though he started small, with coffee alone, the competition was little and he would serve it with a beignet.
The date he introduced chicory and coffee in the menu of Café du Monde has remained unknown and debates on how beignets entered New Orleans have been in existence.
The origin might be important, but there is one fact that stands – without the beignet Café du Monde would not have landed on the map and possibly, it would not remain there for over 155 years.
Today, in Jackson Square corner, you will find cooks turning beignets very fast, while coffee brews on the nearby counters.
In the kitchen, you will realize that flour covers almost everything – fingers, hands, elbows, pants and shoes and the powdered sugar gathers on the floor, regardless of the season. The waiters serve the beignet with café au lait, which they lace with chicory and it is nearly white.
And because Café du Monde remains open 24/7 throughout the year, customers from all parts of the world go there to drink and eat.
How to Prepare Raw Chicory For Coffee
To make chicory coffee and you don’t want to get it from a specialty store or Amazon, you have to pull up the root from the ground, wash, dry, roast and cut it finely before steeping or brewing. The process will provide the chicory with a roasted flavor similar to that of coffee and that its key appeal in most drinks.
After roasting the chicory root and cutting it up, you can brew or steep it. Unlike coffee, chicory is highly soluble in water, which means that you will need only a little amount when brewing.
Chicory is less expensive than coffee and it is, therefore, a good choice for people on a tight budget. You should avoid over-brewing it because that will ruin the flavor. Start with a teaspoon for each cup you brew and then start adjusting until you get the taste you need. You can enjoy chicory coffee in various ways.
How Does Chicory Coffee Taste
When someone mentions the phrase “New Orleans Chicory Coffee”, some of the first things that will hit you include the leisurely breakfasts, munching beignets and the steaming mugs. But, what does it refer to? The stuff is a mix of ground coffee and roasted grounded root chicory.
Roasted ground chicory looks identical to the caffeinated counterpart and offers a gratifying tobacco-smoke aroma. The ratio of coffee to chicory in the New Orleans Chicory coffee is two-to-one, but if you need something different, you would go for the half-to-half ratio.
If steeped, it provides stronger sweet-and-sour chest nuttiness in addition to slick nectar-like body and a long aftertaste. You would not mistake that for the pure coffee, but a little milk will transform its flavor completely – it will get a crisp blackened shell taste on a fire-toasted marshmallow.
Basic Chicory French Press Coffee Recipe
I like to make this coffee with a French Press as its easy to do and comes out great. Here is a simple French Press recipe with Chicory. You will need a scale, a burr grinder and a timer to get the best brew:
- Get some fresh roasted coffee from you local roaster, I like to use Brazil coffee as it has a nice chocolate nutty taste that mixes well with the chicory.
- Using the burr grinder on a coarse setting, grind 20 grams of coffee and pour it into your French Press
- This is subjective but grind up 4 grams of chicory, you can buy from Amazon or local specialty store and add it to the Coffee in the French Press
- Put the French Press on the scale and Tare It.
- Heat your water to 205 degrees Fahrenheit or to boil and after 30 seconds pour in 300g of water into the French Press
- Start the timer and let the coffee brew for 4 minutes
- At 4 minute, use the plunger and press down until it stops.
- Now just pour into your cup and ENJOY!!!!
Chicory Coffee and Milk
When in New Orleans you will see a lot if not most of the people drinking there chicory coffee with milk… and like in France they call it a Cafe Au Lait. The reason for this is 2 part:
- One is due to tradition where they have there coffee with half milk and half chicory coffee
- The second reason is because they coffee they used was bitter (as can be the case today) so when milk is added it cuts down on the bitterness of the coffee and makes it more enjoyable to drink. If you want to really go crazy you could try it with Almond Milk!
If you want to try something different whether you are in New Orleans or at home you should buy or make your own chicory coffee. Its unique flavor and taste will be a nice change of pace from your normal coffee routine and will be pleasant surprise for friends and guests that come to visit.