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New Orleans was the port of choice for Latin American coffee planters for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, and coffee brands, companies, roasters and distributors have been here for decades.
In the early 19th century, Rose Nicaud, who had earned her freedom from slavery, set up a portable coffee stand near the French Market that was so successful that many more free women of color set up their own stands, serving their own coffee blends. This was the beginning of the New Orleans coffee stand, in a city still dotted with independently owned coffee shops.
Because of its French history, New Orleans coffee has always been strong and has always been toned down with the addition of milk to make cafe au lait. According to “New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories,” the addition of chicory to coffee is not necessarily a result of a Civil War blockade, as has been repeated many times. Researcher Sharon Stallworth Nossiter points out that Europeans had been drinking chicory coffee since the early 1800s, and until 1897, all chicory used in the U.S. was imported from Europe and would have been unavailable in New Orleans during blockades.
New Orleans is no longer the largest coffee port in the country, but there are still a dozen local coffee roasters. Folger’s, a division of the Smucker Co., operates the world’s largest coffee roasting plant here.
Cafe brulot, an extravagant flaming coffee dessert drink, is still served in a handful of restaurants and homes. And Cafe du Monde, which has been serving fresh hot beignets and chicory cafe au lait at the French Market since 1862, has nine locations across the region.