One of the reasons I make these posts here is so that I can have them handy to go reference later when my faculties are failing me. So, when someone asked me again if I could make a N’awlins-style chicory BBotE I said to myself, “Aha! You’ve already answered this one. Email the link, you’re home free and it’s martini time.” Alas, when I went hunting I discovered that the post disappeared into the black hole of server migration. So, here it is again with entirely new words and a couple months extra thinking.
As you may or may not be aware, the chicory referred to in N’awlins coffee is a roasted root of the endive family that has little or nothing to do with coffee beans and has no caffeine. So, why would you ever use it? Answer: it tastes somewhat like coffee with an interesting “rooty” flavor when roasted. That’s nice, but why would use it instead of coffee? Answer: because sometimes you don’t have any coffee.
In times of deprivation, usually war and/or winter in Europe, something had to be done to bulk out the coffee supplies until fresh shipments arrived from abroad. The Napoleonic Wars and the decade following the Year Without A Summer were a grim time to be a coffee drinker; luckily chicory does relatively well with cold and weak sunlight. Or as a merchant you could increase your inventory by “stepping on” your coffee with chicory, to use the heroin and cocaine parlance.
Of course, coffee had always been something of a luxury that the poor of the 17th, 18th & 19th century never really had. Chicory had the advantage of being more readily soluble in water which meant you could get more the roasted “coffee” flavor with less raw material than coffee required. Make fun of the third world if you like, but as home to the former colonial coffee plantations their inhabitants were enjoying a better and purer coffee than what got sent home to their imperial overlords. Assuming of course they didn’t lose a limb or get flogged for trying coffee rather than shipping it (SEE ALSO: pre-revolution Haiti and very similar blood diamond practices). Taken from this point of view, coffee mixed with chicory very likely was the normal flavor of coffee for most of the western world as recently as World War One and saw a resurgence during the Great Depression. Of course, New Orleans had always been making their morning brew this way as they stayed close to their chronically short-of-coffee French roots (yes, I should be summarily shot for that pun).
Anyway, when asked if I’d be willing to try a N’awlins the first time I gave it a bit of a think and decided to learn a bit more about chicory. If anything, making BBotE has been an education in the pharmacopoeia of coffee, highlighting the presence of things other than caffeine in the coffee bean and suggesting that I might be doing a preferential extraction of the chemicals present. The very first thing I ran across was that the a category of pharmaceutical effect I’d never heard of for several of the extracted oils: emmenagogue – promotes or stimulates menstration; in high doses can function as an abortifact.
In light of this discovery, N’awlins BBotE seems like a Terrible Bad No Good Idea for half of the human race, especially if the extraction of those chicory oils is anywhere near as efficient as the pull for caffeine seems to be.
Sometimes the best science is the bit you don’t do.