You may have heard of adding chicory to coffee or drinking chicory coffee, you may wonder what chicory is. Is it a natural herb to flavor the coffee? Is it a type of bean such as the arabica bean?
Chicory is natural, but it’s not exactly an herb. It’s a full flower, and it’s the chicory roots that are added to coffee. Chicory naturally has a coffee taste, so it’s often used to enhance the coffee flavors. However, adding the root to coffee has been around for centuries.
The first documented use of chicory is from Napoleonic history, when Napoleon’s blockades caused a massive java shortage throughout the country in the early 1800s. To help stretch the coffee supply, many coffee aficionados added ground chicory to their roasts. When the supply was too low, or a connoisseur could not afford to purchase coffee, ground chicory was completely substituted in for the caffeine beans. Chicory has no caffeine of its own, but it tastes enough like coffee to do the trick. It was, in a fashion, the very first brew of decaf coffee.
This trick has been used since then whenever coffee supplies were dangerously low, especially in French colonies. The first instance of chicory coffee occurred in Louisiana, which was at the time a French colony. However, it wasn’t until the Civil War that chicory coffee became mainstream in the state. One of the south’s largest ports was in New Orleans, which is where most of the country’s coffee sailed in. The Union blockaded the port, depriving the south of coffee and forcing them to turn to chicory to expand their dwindling supply.
New Orleans has continued with their chicory roots (pun absolutely intended), and the famous Cafe du Monde still serves coffee mixed with the root as their house specialty. Have you tried their cafe au lait? It’s mixed with chicory.
If you think it’s strange to mix a root with your coffee instead of a sweet flavoring, just remember there are stranger combinations out there. For example, a company in Seattle now sells K-cups mixed with cannabis for that perfect “wake ‘n’ bake” feeling.
People have mixed different flavors into their coffee for centuries. We prefer Coffee-mate when adding a flavor to coffee. Do you have a favorite flavor to add to your coffee?