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What is chicory coffee?

A cup of coffee with chicory.

Chicory coffee is a blend of ordinary coffee beans mixed with the dried, ground root of certain varieties of the chicory plant. Its flavor tends towards bitterness, resembling more to certain very dark roasted coffee beans. This drink has been associated with the city of New Orleans and with Cajun cuisine and, to a lesser extent, with southern cuisine in general. This blend may have health benefits for some coffee drinkers, as it is effectively a naturally low-caffeine coffee.

Coffee beans mixed with the root of the chicory plant can be used to make chicory coffee.

Chicory has been used to flavor cooking for many centuries, especially in the Mediterranean. It has been added to coffee periodically when coffee supplies were scarce and expensive. Chicory root is fairly common and easy to grow, although it does not produce the same stimulating effect as coffee since it lacks caffeine. During the Napoleonic era, when France was cut off from much of the world’s trade by the British fleet, coffee blending with chicory was widely used as a way to make small supplies of coffee last longer.

Chicory plants have been used in cooking for many centuries.

The American Civil War caused a great increase in the consumption of coffee with chicory. The Union enjoyed naval dominance throughout the war and was able to effectively blockade major Confederate ports. This blockade meant that the Confederacy had its supply of coffee largely cut off and was forced to turn to local substitutes to stretch or replace scarce and expensive stocks. Civil War soldier accounts often describe drinking coffee with chicory, and the practice was equally common in areas far from the fighting.

Inheriting something of the French coffeehouse obsession, New Orleans residents drank a lot of coffee in the years leading up to the Civil War, a practice made easier and less expensive by the city’s role as a major port. The outbreak of hostilities did not induce New Orleans residents to give up coffee, but it did force them to switch to coffee with chicory, and sometimes to chicory with a touch of coffee. This practice led many people to develop a taste for the mix and it has remained popular to this day. The Café du Mond in New Orleans is still famous for its blend of chicory and coffee.

The mixture of coffee and chicory produces a beverage that provides a robust coffee flavor but with a lower level of caffeine. Although the blend was originally a necessity product, the reduced level of caffeine has led some to consider it a useful replacement for full-strength coffee for people who want to limit their caffeine intake. Most people, however, consume coffee with chicory for its strong flavor and not for its health benefits.

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