New Orleans has undergone several new stages of gentrification over the years and obviously has overcome their stereotype for being known as the ‘Sin City’ it used to be called. With a whole new generation that is aiming to change the course of history when it comes to coffee experiences, is the Big Easy so easily swayed?
A Historical Trade Route
Going back in the pages of history, Louisiana and more specifically the Port of New Orleans has always been an important point of entry for coffee and processing in the area. The origin of the coffee trade within the region all started with the import of chicory back when Napoleon still had control of Louisiana. Had it not been for the transfer of this region back to the US in 1803, it might not have changed the face of coffee for the south.
For those who were already used to the flavor of chicory in their coffee, the new wave of coffee beans would cause a series of events to create an entire coffee industry. This is where the French Market Coffee was established in New Orleans as their stronghold. Napoleon even used his military might to prevent green coffee beans from reaching this region, but as history proves itself correct, even that little madman lost his marbles over his terrible planning and military blunders.
Despite the importation of chicory, it was already embedded in the public mind that it was a wonderful hot beverage that could cure many ailments. In the early 1800s, it even took the effort of President Andrew Jackson (that $100 guy) who was very open and honest about the French attempt to continue their export of chicory to the US. He began a campaign to inform the people of New Orleans that Café Du Monde chicory coffee was simply a poor substitute.
As the Civil War took its toll on early America, a major import blockade later prevented President Lincoln from getting coffee to his troops. Obviously, for those living in the south, a generous supply of chicory coffee was available from the efforts of smuggling by French ships that had access to southern ports who supplied this clever replacement to a coffee-loving southern fan base. By this time, chicory coffee was about as common as poverty.
It was touted as a cure for female hysteria and prevents hypochondria, but the worst part is that this chicory blend was boasting it was better than regular coffee. The roots of this stem from coffee houses in Holland that found a way to save money on coffee beans by adding as much as 50% or more roasted chicory root to replace using 100% coffee beans. This disinformation used by the Dutch was adopted by the French who used it to their advantage.
The domination by the French Market Coffee Company in the late 1880s began to lose steam to a whole new coffee revolution. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that New Orleans became the 2nd largest coffee import destination after New York. By 1910, an estimated 301 million pounds of coffee beans were imported to New Orleans that year. It was also one of the most popular drinks (next to chicory blends) in that region.
The incredible boom that expanded Gravier Street became the bane of what the French Market Coffee brands came to experience from the newly formed Green Coffee Association of New Orleans. This strong-arm association would help to topple the grip on chicory coffee in the region, but only for a short period. By the Second World War, coffee was once again in short supply because it was being sent to US Troops overseas.
This gave people in the south another newfound taste of chicory coffee blends that may have been forever cemented in history. It continued throughout the 60s and 70s, which perpetuated into what New Orleans chicory coffee represented.
More Related: What is French coffee?
Traditional Coffee In New Orleans
It goes without saying that finding a coffee shop that offers coffee with chicory anywhere in New Orleans or the French Quarter is going to be very typical. It’s almost the same as looking for a restaurant that is selling Po-Boy sandwiches since they’re found at every gas station quick-mart to upscale eateries. The most iconic coffee drinks include café au lait and New Orleans Iced coffee.
For a bit more exotic variants there is also café brulot which takes a cognac-soaked sugar cube that is set on fire before being dropped into a cup of coffee. There is also a growing trend for third-wave coffee which is embracing the modern trend of specialty coffees. With so much tourism that NOLA experiences each year, specialty coffee is proving to be a welcome sight for curious travelers who come to New Orleans.
Micro Roasters And Modern Coffee Culture
The latest wave of coffee shop owners are now finding a market for their products in NOLA, are now embracing a different kind of coffee culture. These coffee shops are also known as micro-roasters. These are specialty coffee shops that have gone beyond the third wave coffee category in favor of political correctness and social equity. And though many of these newer cafés are seemingly centralized in the French Quarter, they are rapidly expanding.
It’s common to find coffee shops all over the bigger cities that feature soy milk lattes and non-dairy cappuccinos that are all the rage at every Starbucks. This younger generation is now featuring medium roast blended coffee beans that come from ethical coffee bean farmers. Many of these coffee shops are more than outlets for grabbing a quick cup likewise as they are now considered social equity community centers.
As this sounds more like a political statement, this is New Orleans that we’re talking about. The Big Easy has long been associated with living life a lot different than most folks do, yet this might be a whole new sign of the times. Perhaps this might be the start of redefining what coffee is called in favor of updated terms. And even when coffee is now considered ethical conservation, time will only tell if this trend is embraced by the long history of what defines New Orleans-style coffee.