What Is Chicory Coffee And Why Is It So Popular In New Orleans?

It's not coffee, but people certainly do drink it that way.

Bowl of chicory powder and flowers on white wooden table, flat lay
Photo: Getty Images

New Orleans' vibrant culinary culture makes it a must-go destination for dining enthusiasts. Many rush to the Big Easy to partake of fresh Gulf seafood, boldly-seasoned Cajun and Creole dishes like gumbo and jambalaya, spicy andouille sausage, sugar-dusted beignets, and iconic cocktails like the Sazerac and the Hurricane. But we'd be remiss if we didn't also highlight NOLA's unique and flavorful contribution to the American coffee lexicon: New Orleans-style chicory coffee.

What Is New Orleans-Style Coffee?

According to manager Jesse Sutphen of Silver Whistle Café in New Orleans, NOLA coffee is "French-style roast [coffee brewed] with chicory."

French roast coffee is a style of dark coffee that leaves the beans tasting slightly sweet and smoky. But NOLA-style coffee heightens both of those flavor characteristics by brewing the French roast beans with roasted chicory root, an herbaceous plant that's part of the dandelion family.

Most New Orleans cafes serve NOLA coffee as "a cafe au lait," says Sutphen. Sutphen explains that the addition of steamed milk to this "rich, dark roast smooths it out nicely."

How does the presence of chicory affect coffee's flavor?

Chicory root and coffee feature complementary flavors that highlight and intensify each other. "Raw chicory root starts a little bitter, but roasting it brings out a coffee-like nuttiness with slightly bittersweet notes. When combined, the flavors are complementary and distinctive," explains Sutphen.

Chef de Cuisine Marie Guevera of Birdy's Behind The Bower in New Orleans also describes the flavor of chicory-roasted NOLA coffee as "layered, bitter, botanical, and nutty."

How Did Chicory Coffee Become a New Orleans Signature?

The notion of putting chicory in coffee came to Louisiana by way of the French, who colonized the area in the 17th century. "The French originally brought the concept of adding chicory to beverages, and then the practice was really embraced during the Civil War when supplies were scarce," Guevara tells us.

If you're wondering why the idea of combining chicory with coffee ever took hold in France, Sutphen has an answer for you: "Chicory was once used in parts of Europe as a coffee substitute, given the similar flavor produced when the roots are properly roasted. Chicory root was cheaper and more readily available, but it had the disadvantage of not having caffeine. When coffee beans became more widely available, palates informed by French influence enjoyed the best of both worlds. Many New Orleans coffees will contain both, with the flavors complementing one another. What was once borne out of necessity has now become part of a cultural identity."

Where Can You Find Excellent Chicory Coffee in the Big Easy?

Chicory coffee can be found at many cafes and brunch spots in New Orleans, but check out these locales for especially tasty versions:

Café du Monde
This long-standing NOLA staple may be famous for its beignets, but visitors can also avail themselves of smooth, rich, and balanced New Orleans-style cafe au lait.

French Truck Coffee
Beloved local mini-chain French Truck Coffee offers their New Orleans coffee as an iced beverage, giving you the caffeine boost and flavor complexity of NOLA coffee in a refreshing format for sweltering Louisiana summers.

Coast Roast Coffee
A third-wave coffee bar located inside hip St. Roch Market, Coast Roast nails the bitterness-to-richness blend of dark-roast coffee, chicory, and milk in their artisanal NOLA-style cafe au lait.

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