I’ve always been a coffee lover since I was a teenager, and I’ve tried dozens of different brands, roasts, and beans. However, while I was visiting New Orleans, I discovered chicory coffee. At first, I was just intrigued by the label, but once I tasted it, I knew I would start drinking it regularly.
So, what is chicory coffee? Chicory coffee is a coffee-like beverage brewed from roasted chicory root. Despite the name, chicory coffee does not contain coffee beans. Chicory root is a close relative of the dandelion, but its roots are particularly delicious, especially when roasted.
The chicory plant is native to France, North Africa, and Western Asia, although it’s grown in South Africa and North America today. The French brought chicory with them when colonizing North America, which is a big reason why chicory coffee is so popular in old French colonial cities like New Orleans. This beverage works as a coffee substitute because it’s similar in flavor, but it’s caffeine-free and has a slightly smoother taste, thanks to the inulin inside that caramelizes when the root is roasted.
A Brief History Of Chicory Coffee
In the United States, it’s impossible to look at the history of chicory coffee without acknowledging the impact that French colonists had on the country. The chicory plant was already pretty popular in France during the reign of Napoleon, so colonists brought the root with them when settling in Nova Scotia.
As the French moved south to New Orleans, they still brought the root and started planting and harvesting it in the nearby soil. The Crescent City was already a major shipping hub, particularly for coffee, so there was a lot of demand for coffee-like beverages like chicory.
It wasn’t until the American Civil War that chicory became a mainstay in New Orleans. Since the Union established a continental blockade of all trade into the port, residents had to get creative to satisfy their coffee cravings. Chicory root served as a viable alternative since it was already grown in the region, so many residents developed a taste for it.
In 1862, as the Civil War was heating up, Café du Monde opened its doors within the French Market area of the city, and it’s still serving chicory coffee to this day. The traditional way of drinking chicory is “café au lait,” meaning you have to add milk. A cup of chicory with a freshly baked beignet is all it takes to bring the spirit of New Orleans into your home.
Chicory Coffee Vs. Regular Coffee
Part of the reason I took to chicory so quickly is that chicory coffee is so similar to the real deal. Although I prefer having caffeine in the morning to help me wake up, chicory works well as an afternoon pick-me-up that also helps me limit my caffeine intake.
So, here are the various ways that chicory and regular coffee are similar and different. This way, you can make an informed decision about when and how to incorporate chicory into your routine. Learn more in our coffee vs. chicory explainer.
Both coffee beans and chicory root are ground and roasted. When comparing the two side-by-side, ground chicory and ground coffee look pretty similar, although the former is a bit lighter. If you’re familiar with either product, you can tell the difference, but at first glance, it’s hard to notice.
Making both types of coffee is also very similar, as you add the grounds to hot water and let it steep to extract as much flavor as possible. Alternatively, cold brewing has caught on in recent years, although you must steep the coffee grounds overnight to get the best results.
One of the primary reasons why coffee is so ubiquitous these days is that it delivers a caffeine boost. So, drinking a cup (or two) in the morning is the perfect way to start your day. By comparison, chicory doesn’t have any caffeine, so you won’t get that same energetic buzz.
That said, there are pros and cons to drinking caffeine, particularly if your intake is high. Too much coffee can put stress on your heart and circulatory system, so drinking some chicory can help mitigate those effects.
Another great aspect of coffee is that you can grow different types of beans in locations around the world. So, coffee from Colombia will taste different than coffee grown in Bali, which are both different from coffee grown in Vietnam.
Chicory flowers are not as diverse, so the flavor profile of chicory coffee is pretty consistent no matter where you go. Realistically, a cup of chicory café au lait in Paris will taste about the same as one in Louisiana.
Chicory fans note that this coffee has a smoother flavor with hints of cinnamon and spices. The beverage is also a bit thicker, thanks to extra starches and fibers you can find in the roots. I only drink chicory coffee with milk or creamer, while I can enjoy some regular coffee varieties without additives.
Overall, the differences between these beverages are not too significant, but if you had a cup of chicory next to a regular cup of Joe, you could tell which was which by doing a taste test. So, if you like the flavor of chicory root and don’t mind reducing your caffeine intake, chicory coffee might be the best option.
Top Chicory Coffee Brands
If you’re interested in seeing how chicory tastes, you need to buy some ground chicory root and brew it yourself. Although there are instant coffee varieties available, I typically recommend brewing chicory grounds instead. The process of making instant coffee can dilute the flavor and cause it to break down faster, leading to a less satisfying cup.
With that in mind, here are my picks for the top five chicory coffee brands:
Café du Monde
If you’re going to brew a cup of chicory, you might as well start with the original. The recipe for this coffee hasn’t changed in the last 150 years, so there must be something about it that makes it so enjoyable.
As I’ve mentioned, the way to drink New Orleans coffee is with milk, and Café du Monde is brilliant when paired with it. All types of milk work well with these coffee grounds, including almond, oat, or dairy milk.
Worldwide Botanicals – French Chicory
Since this type of coffee originated in France, it makes sense to drink roots grown on French soil. Worldwide Botanicals sources some of the best chicory roots available, meaning you’ll get a much better drinking experience. Plus, the brew is organic and sustainably sourced, so you can feel good about buying it.
I’ve noticed that this version comes with a pretty strong taste, and it can be quite bitter if you don’t mix it with milk. So, if you love chicory flavor, you’ll appreciate this coffee. Otherwise, a little bit will go a long way.
Blend with coffee to lower its acidity and caffeine, or brew roasted chicory root by itself to enjoy France's favorite coffee alternative. 100% caffeine free, certified gluten free, acid free and Kosher.
French Market Coffee
Although this coffee is called French Market, it’s not made in New Orleans; instead, it’s imported from France. French Market chicory coffee is highly versatile, so you can buy different variations depending on your preferences. For example, you can get medium or dark roast, and you can even buy coffee pods to work with a single-serving machine.
The reason this coffee is so versatile is that it’s a blend of chicory root and coffee beans. So, it does have some caffeine, giving it the best of both worlds. Plus, even though it’s imported, the affordability of the ingredients means you can buy French Market Coffee for pretty cheap.
Community Chicory Coffee
Community is another local Louisiana brand, and the factory is located in Baton Rouge. Community makes a wide array of different coffees, and like French Market, this blend is a mix of beans and roots.
You can also choose between medium and dark roasts, as well as coffee grounds or single-use pods. Also, if you drink chicory because of its caffeine-free status, you can choose decaf Community Coffee to avoid getting the jitters. The brand also offers blends like French Roast or Hazelnut to give you even better flavors.
Teeccino Chicory Coffee
Because chicory has such an intense flavor, this blend from Teeccino can help newbies get used to the taste. This brand adds vanilla flavoring to smooth out your coffee and leave your tongue with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Another reason I like Teeccino Coffee is that it’s an all-purpose grind, so I can brew it however I like – in a French press, a regular drip coffee maker, or cold brewing.
Health Benefits Of Chicory Coffee
When people started drinking chicory coffee in the 19th century, they did so because it tasted good and was easier to find during a coffee shortage. However, these days, we know that this beverage has several compelling health benefits that may sway you into drinking it regularly.
Also, don’t think that you have to pick chicory or traditional coffee – you can enjoy both daily. Here’s a quick rundown of the different health advantages you may get by drinking chicory.
- Better Gut Health: As a member of the dandelion family, chicory contains inulin, an important type of prebiotic fiber. So, drinking this coffee can improve your gut health and may even assist with weight loss. Since you feel fuller after a cup of coffee, you’re less likely to overindulge in your next meal.
- Lower Blood Sugar Levels: Inulin doesn’t just make digestion easier. It can also help regulate your blood sugar levels, so they don’t get out of control. While roasted chicory root won’t singlehandedly prevent diabetes (or cure it), it’s still beneficial.
- Decrease Inflammation: Inflammation is a common issue, particularly for those with heart conditions and diabetes. While more research is needed, several animal species experienced lower inflammation levels after eating raw chicory roots. This benefit can also work for those with arthritis, although preliminary evidence is relatively scant.
Overall, chicory is not necessarily healthier than traditional coffee, but because it’s not as processed, you can absorb more of the nutrients it contains. So, don’t start drinking chicory as a “superfood,” but if you already enjoy the taste, it can help regulate various bodily functions. For more choices, check out our round-up of the best coffee alternatives.
FAQs About Chicory Coffee
Are There Side Effects To Drinking Chicory?
In rare cases, individuals may have an allergic reaction to drinking chicory coffee. Typically, those who already have allergies to ragweed or birch pollen are more susceptible to having a bad reaction.
How Much Chicory Coffee Can I Drink In A Day?
There are no dietary restrictions to drinking chicory coffee. Presumably, you can have as many cups of it as you like with no significant adverse effects. Because chicory is naturally caffeine-free, it doesn’t pose the same danger as regular coffee if you drink too much of it in a single day.
Can I Eat the Rest Of The Chicory Plant?
You can eat the rest of the chicory plant, including the blue and purple flowers; many people in different parts of the world eat chicory leaves and flowers in salads. Always ensure your chicory is clean and fresh.