The American coffee drinking habit began during colonization and with the great movement of European immigration. The early settlers of Spanish, French, English, Dutch and German descent came in search of religious freedom and economic opportunities. Along with them came their food and drink culture.
Some say it all started in New Orleans!
New Orleans’ French influence can be traced back to the early 1700s. French early settlers came not as farmers but as merchants mainly in the fur trade. They came to America through the Mississippi River, St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. The Port of New Orleans was one of the major gateways for the French. In 1718, Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville founded New Orleans, La Nouvelle-Orléans in French. Louisiana was still under French rule.
Did the French or Spanish introduce coffee to America via New Orleans? Quoting Cafe du Monde:
Coffee first came to North America by way of New Orleans in mid-1700’s. It was successfully cultivated in Martinique about 1720, and the French brought coffee with them.
By the 19th century, the Port of New Orleans was the second largest port in America and the fourth largest in the world. According to Louisiana State Museum:
European explorers and traders largely disseminated the centuries-old practices of coffee cultivation and consumption from the Middle East to Europe and then to the Americas. Sometime during the eighteenth century, New Orleans received its first shipments of green coffee from Cuba and other Caribbean Islands. As the city grew and commerce expanded, more coffee arrived from the Caribbean and South America until the port had become the second largest importer of coffee in the United States after New York by the 1840s.
Records show 1,428 bags of coffee arrived in 1802 and by 1857, there were 530,000 bags. New Orleans’ location on the bend of the Mississippi River and proximity to the Caribbean and Central and South America made it ideal for transporting coffee. Today the Port of New Orleans has the world’s largest coffee silo and is America’s top coffee handling port, with 14 warehouses, 5.5 million square feet of storage space and 6 roasting facilities within a 20-mile radius. (Source: Port NOLA)
New Orleans is still a major gateway for imported coffee in the United States.
Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter is one place to learn about the French influenced on coffee in New Orleans. Cafe du Monde has over 150 years of history. Started in 1862 in the French Market, it still serves dark roasted coffee with chicory and beignets. Beignets are square doughnuts with no holes in the middle and are covered with lots of powdered sugar.
Chicory was added to coffee by the French during French civil war when coffee was in short supply.
Beignets are the official doughnut of Louisiana. Its origin in America can be traced to the 17th-century French immigrants in Acadia, a region in east coast of Canada. These settlers from Acadia moved south to Louisiana and brought along their cuisine including their beloved chicory coffee and beignets.
When in New Orleans, one must get to the original Cafe du Monde coffee stand in the French Market. Order a cafe au lait – coffee with hot milk and half-and-half. And of course, the sugary beignets.
Cafe du Monde in the French Market is set up almost like a fast food place and there is usually a long line of tourists.
There are 9 locations throughout New Orleans. Did you know there are over 20 licensed Cafe du Monde stores in Japan? You can read more about it at NOLA.com.
By the 1920s coffee breaks were common in New Orleans. Louisiana State Museum reported that in 1928 Lyle Saxon wrote in Fabulous New Orleans:
It is no unusual thing for a business man to say casually: “Well, let’s go and get a cup of coffee,” as a visitor in his office is making ready to depart. It is a little thing perhaps, this drinking of coffee at odd times, but it is very characteristic of the city itself…
Read more on this interesting history at Louisiana State Museum website.
Have you tasted Cafe du Monde’s chicory and coffee? And have you been to Cafe du Monde? Now you can purchase Cafe du Monde’s chicory online. Check it out here.