The Coffee Trade and the Port of New Orleans
New Orleans and Coffee
Today, New Orleans is the number one coffee port in the country. Around 241,000 tons of green coffee or 27.8 percent of the coffee that entered the United States in 1995 came into New Orleans. Beans are shipped here in large containers from thirty-one coffee-producing countries. This coffee is shipped out to large bulk roasters and smaller specialty roasters around the world.
Morning Call and Cafe du Monde
For many visitors to the Crescent City, a stop at Morning Call or Cafe du Monde has served as an introduction to the coffee traditions of New Orleans. Both stands competed for years in the French Quarter, attracting everyone from day laborers on a coffee break to debutantes on their way home from a ball. The two enterprises remain an important part of local culture.
New Orleans has long had a reputation for fine food and drink. Coffee recipes are part of this gustatory tradition. At Antoine's restaurant in the 1890s, for instance, Jules Alciatore created Café Brûlot Diabolique, a flaming concoction of coffee, brandy, and spices. The drink later became a popular way to disguise alcohol during Prohibition.
Many myths surround the use of chicory in coffee blends. One story holds that the root was accidentally found to be a flavorful additive to coffee as far back as the sixteenth century. Chicory is made from the root of the endive plant and was used as a filler and flavor enhancer in parts of northern Europe at least as far back as the eighteenth century. Napoleon's armies reportedly brought chicory back to France, where Parisians began to prefer its taste and the thriftiness of adding chicory. Since chicory could be grown in parts of Europe where coffee could not, the root was obviously cheaper. How it made its way to the United States is unknown. For many years it was used to stretch coffee supplies, especially in hard times such as the Civil War. This practice upset many purists, who disdained chicory and other additives. Somewhere along the way, however, New Orleanians developed a taste for chicory in coffee blends and many prefer it today.
Throughout the New Orleans area, chicory has been used as a flavor additive. Local coffee companies have kept up with demand by offering the same blends with and without chicory. Within the city, coffee and chicory are consumed in greater quantities than anywhere else. Outside of the city, most coffee drinkers imbibe pure coffee instead.
Coffeehouses and Breaks
In the 1920s the coffee break, as we know it, had not yet become a part of the daily ritual of American workers. In New Orleans, however, where business was said to have taken a secondary role to pleasure, the mid-morning break began to take form. In 1928 Lyle Saxon wrote in Fabulous New Orleans: