What Makes New Orleans-Style Iced Coffee Unique

Sitting under the awning of the world-famous Café du Monde, sipping its distinctive blend of coffee and devouring fresh, hot beignets is perhaps one of the most satisfying tourist experiences found in New Orleans, Louisiana. However, while some die-hard fans of hot coffee may opt for it regardless of the weather, iced coffee can deliver a refreshing alternative on warm days. And just like the city, New Orleans-style iced coffee's flavor is also unique with the addition of chicory.

Though chicory doesn't contain any caffeine, it's the flavorful ingredient that distinguishes New Orleans-style coffee from all others. Chicory is a plant with relatives you probably know, like escarole, radicchio, and endive. While the chicory plant grows wild along roadsides, displaying cheerful blue blooms, it's the root of the plant that's so important. When chicory root is dried, roasted, and ground, it shares many of the flavors of coffee, which is why it's historically been used in addition to or in place of coffee when supplies were too expensive or difficult to obtain. 

How New Orleans-style iced coffee is made and served

Most New Orleans-style coffee relies on a blend of dark roasted coffee and chicory brewed together. One thing iced coffee should never be is wimpy or watered down and that's why some producers advocate for using what's essentially a cold brew concentrate for New Orleans-style iced coffee. The concentrate is potent, with a long steep time and a high proportion of coffee and chicory to water, delivering a rich, roasted brew that will retain its flavor even after ice, milk, or creamer has been added.

When it's served on ice, New Orleans-style coffee is usually sweetened, which can be achieved by adding plain granulated sugar, simple syrup, or even sweetened condensed milk. When chicory and coffee are brewed together, the flavors harmonize, though the correct balance of the two is important for achieving the best flavor. Typically, you'll use more coffee than chicory in the blend for your New Orleans-style iced coffee, usually in a ratio of one part chicory to two or three parts coffee, which delivers the distinctive flavor profile found in the French Quarter and other neighborhoods in New Orleans.