Crescent City Coffee Connection: History and Heritage Imbues
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can find a handful of monuments and memorials to the
New Orleans Coffee Culture: The Café du Monde
Civil War around New Orleans’ parks, museums and public spaces,
experience one enduring local legacy of the conflict you need only
order a cup of coffee.
That would be coffee with chicory, to be more
precise. The Union naval blockade of the port of New Orleans
during the war led to sudden scarcity of many commodities, including
coffee. So just as the French did during the blockades of the
Napoleonic wars, resourceful New Orleanians stretched their precious
stock of imported coffee by mixing it with ground, roasted chicory
root, which they could grow locally. Though an invention of wartime
necessity, the chicory blend was embraced for the mellow caramel
undertones and smooth texture it added to coffee.
Today, coffee with chicory remains the most
popular blend in a city where people do not take the matter lightly.
Thanks to the gourmet coffee chains sprouting up across the national
landscape, much of America is waking up to the idea that coffee
can be a real pleasure. But coffee has always been serious business
in New Orleans - whether stacked in pyramids of 100-pound sacks
on the port docks or served in china in the city’s finest
By the 19th century, New Orleans was already
one of the world’s busiest ports and, thanks to its proximity
to Latin America, coffee was one of its leading imports. Naturally,
coffeehouses sprang up around city. In fact, one city directory
from the 1850s lists more than 500 coffeehouses in the rapidly
growing port town.
Today, one-third of all coffee imported to
North America lands first in New Orleans, according to research
from the economic development group Greater New Orleans, Inc.
A dozen local coffee roasters prepare products for 20 national
and local brands, while Folgers now operates the world’s
largest coffee roasting plant a few miles downriver from the
French Quarter. The heady aroma of roasting coffee is a familiar
scent in the mornings in many of New Orleans’ historic
Creole Coffee and “French
While the vitality of the local coffee industry may be gauged
by the ton, true coffee culture in New Orleans is measured one
cup at a time at the city’s historic and modern coffeehouses
The quintessential New Orleans coffee experience
is offered around the clock at Café du Monde (1039
Decatur St., 504-525-4544). A fixture in the French Market since
1862, Café du Monde has about as much in common with the
modern type of coffeehouse as the French Quarter itself does
with a suburban strip mall. A crowd as varied as limo-hopping
debutantes, drag queens in full regalia and small-town church
youth groups now regularly crowd the bustling, open-air coffee
stand. Don’t look for fancy espresso concoctions here;
the standard order at Café du Monde is café au
lait (equal portions of coffee with chicory and steamed milk)
and beignets, the fried squares of dough often called French
doughnuts. The landmark coffee stand closes only for Christmas
or when the occasional hurricane looks particularly menacing.
Café du Monde once dueled for coffee
supremacy in the French Market with the Morning Call (3325
Severn Ave., 504-885-4068). Founded in 1871, it offered an almost
identical menu of café au lait and beignets right around
the corner from Café du Monde. However, the Morning Call
has been serving more recent generations from its new location
in suburban Metairie, where it is still a 24-hour operation.
While tradition is revered in the Crescent City, time hasn’t
stood still for other incarnations of the New Orleans coffeehouse,
and the French Quarter offers many different takes on the experience.
The French Quarter outpost of CC's Coffee House (941
Royal St., 504-581-6996), for instance, combines the heritage
of this long-time Louisiana coffee roaster with all the menu
options and design elements of the much larger gourmet coffee
chains. Meanwhile, one of the newest local coffeehouses evokes
New Orleans’ voodoo traditions. VooBrew Café (830
N. Rampart St., 504-324-6420), located on the edge of the Quarter
near Congo Square, serves all manner of coffee drinks amid voodoo
totems and, for a fee, patrons may even have their fortune predicted
through a reading of the coffee grounds left at the bottom of
Coffeehouses around the French Quarter are
numerous and as varied as the people you see on the always colorful
streets. From the lush courtyard of Royal Blend (621
Royal St., 504-523-2716), to the polished brass and woodwork
of the sunny En Vie (1241 Decatur St., 504-524-3689),
from the bustle outside Croissant d’Or (617
Ursulines St., 504-524-4663), these coffeehouses are united by
New Orleans’ universal demand for quality coffee and the
rich heritage that accompanies the brew here.
CC's Coffee House
941 Royal St., 504-581-6996
Gourmet coffee chain from a local roaster.
Cafe Au Lait
307 Chartres St., 504-528-9933
A charming coffee house near galleries and restaurants.
Café Beignet (three
334 Royal St., 504-524-5530
819 Decatur St., 504-524-8575
1031 Decatur St., 504-522-6868
Picturesque settings for traditional French doughnuts.
Café du Monde
1039 Decatur St., 504-525-4544
The oldest and most revered coffeehouse in New Orleans.
617 Ursulines St., 504-524-4663
Parisian simplicity and elegance on a quiet back street.
1241 Decatur St., 504-524-3689
Polished brash and broad windows amid boutiques.
La Boucherie Coffee House
335 Chartres St. 504-581-6868
Very cheerful space and a great kitchen supplements the coffee
621 Royal St., 504-523-2716
An almost hidden courtyard and quiet refuge in the heart of the
830 N. Rampart St., 504-324-6420
Coffee brewed with a dose of local voodoo lore.
Ian McNulty is a freelance food writer and
columnist, a frequent commentator on the New Orleans entertainment
talk show “Steppin’ Out” and editor of the
guidebook “Hungry? Thirsty? New Orleans.”