New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde: A Taste of History
When you enjoy a cup of chicory-laced coffee and a plate of beignets at New Orleans’ famous Cafe du Monde (800 Decatur St, New Orleans), you’re ingesting a bit of history along with your sugar and caffeine. Coffee played a big role in New Orleans’ history, and at one point in the 1800′s there were nearly 500 coffeehouses in the French Quarter. Cafe du Monde is the sole survivor from that era, with a menu that is virtually unchanged since it first opened in 1862.
Why do they put chicory in their coffee?
During the Civil War, when coffee supplies grew low, the people of New Orleans experimented with all sorts of fillers (such as peanuts and pecan shells) to stretch their dwindling coffee supply.
Adding the roasted root of wild endive (a.k.a. chicory) to coffee is an idea the Acadians from Nova Scotia introduced. To this day, chicory remains a popular coffee additive in New Orleans because, unlike the other supplements, it imparts an enjoyable flavor to coffee, and tones down its bitter notes. Chicory is also purported to have many health benefits, such as: lowering bad cholesterol, balancing blood sugar, supporting healthy liver function, and increasing bone density.
What is a beignet?
A beignet (pronounced ben-yay) is a deep-fried dough ball doused with powdered sugar. They are reminiscent of an Italian zeppole, and just a little bit like an American donut hole – only different. The cafe sells beignet mix, but I think they are best enjoyed in context, sitting at the bustling open-air Cafe du Monde and enjoying the ambiance of the French Quarter.
When to visit Cafe du Monde?
Cafe du Monde is open 24/7, so if you’ve been barhopping, it’s a great place to wind down before heading back to your hotel. Even waiting in line for the bathroom is entertaining, since you have to stand right in the kitchen. It’s a hive of activity with the sizzle of frying dough and the wait staff dashing around in their paper hats. For a truly magical experience, head to Cafe du Monde shortly before sunrise, when the place is nearly empty, then listen to the birds, watch the sun come up and sip your coffee as the city shakes itself awake.
What about the long lines at Cafe du Monde?
As I mentioned in Stretching Your Travel Dollar in New Orleans, you shouldn’t let the long lines at Cafe du Monde scare you off. Not only is the place teeming with waitstaff, but they are used to crowds and the line moves quickly. Plus, they only serve a few items here (beignets, coffee, orange juice, milk, hot chocolate and soda), so it doesn’t take long for your order to arrive. There are three other locations in town, as well. One is located in the Riverwalk Mall and offers great views of the Mississippi and a laid back vibe for those times when you really want your beignet fix, but you also want to relax and maybe write a postcard or two.