Chicory coffee runs in high doses through the bloodstreams of south Louisiana, and has for generations. Chicory may be considered a roadside weed in most places, but in New Orleans it gives coffee that special taste that locals crave, smoky and slightly bitter. In the eighteenth century, Haiti (then a French colony called St. Domingue) produced half of the world’s coffee. But after the 1791 revolution, Parisians and New Orleanians turned to chicory to stretch the divine drops. New Orleans’ coffee culture was all the while much reinforced by the slave revolt, since the city soon hosted thousands of Haitian refugees. Rose Nicaud, a free woman of color, was reputedly the first person to serve demitasse to French Market shoppers and vendors. Gardner’s city directory from 1859 lists about five hundred local coffee houses. Some were combined with other businesses, such as groceries (thirty-six) and boarding houses (thirteen). There was even a “coffee house and wood yard” by the levee at Thalia Street and a “coffee house and wine store” at 34 Main (Dumaine) Street in the French Quarter, owned by an Italian. Today’s clustering of coffee shops has nothing on New Orleans in the 1850s, where one could choose from five different coffee houses just at the intersection of Magazine and St. Mary Streets, twelve on St. Philip Street and thirty-four along Tchoupitoulas Street.
Excerpted from You Are Where You Eat: Stories and Recipes from the Neighborhoods of New Orleans by Elsa Hahne (University Press of Mississippi, 2008).
For a truly excellent cup, check out one of these places:
Cherry Espresso Bar 4877 Laurel St.; (504) 875-3699; Mon-Fri 6:30a-5p, Sat-Sun 7a-5p
Solo Espresso 1301 Poland Ave.; (504) 408-1377; Mon-Sat 8a-3p (starting Sept. 5, Mon-Sat 7a-3p); soloespressobar.com
Mammoth Espresso 821 Baronne St.; (504) 475-4344; Mon-Sun 7a-3p
Arrow Café 628 N. Rampart St.; Mon-Fri 8a-3p, Sat 8a-5p, Sun 8a-2p
HiVolt Coffee 1829 Sophie Wright Pl.; (504) 324-8818; Mon-Fri 7a-7p, Sat 8a-7p, Sun 8a-5p; hivoltcoffee.com
Spitfire Coffee 627 St. Peter St.; Mon-Sun 8a-8p; spitfirecoffee.com
French Truck Coffee 1200 Magazine St.; (504) 298-1115; Mon-Fri 7a-5p, Sat-Sun 8a-4p // 4536 Dryades St.; (504) 702-1900; Mon–Wed 7a-5p, Thur–Fri 7a-8p, Sat 8a–8p, Sun 8a–5p; frenchtruckcoffee.com
Church Alley Coffee Bar 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.; Mon-Sat 8a-4p