Chicory was a popular coffee substitute and economizer for 2 centuries, back when coffee was more prized, and pure coffee was a luxury. In that time, it became a matter of cultural preference to use chicory in coffee. In the United States it was synonymous with New Orleans coffee. The specific taste of famous New Orleans brands is due to the blend of dark roasted coffee and chicory. But when I worked in New Orleans I found how stale the coffee was, and what low quality chicory was being used. If you use high quality coffee, like our French Roast Blend, that you roast yourself and a true imported French Chicory, you will get optimal results with that typical New Orleans Cafe au Lait cup character. Read the review below for the ratio of coffee-to-chicory typically used.
More on Chicory and New Orleans: Many myths surround the use of chicory in coffee blends. One story holds that the root was accidentally found to be a flavorful additive to coffee as far back as the sixteenth century. Chicory is made from the root of the endive plant and was used as a filler and flavor enhancer in parts of northern Europe at least as far back as the eighteenth century. Napoleon's armies reportedly brought chicory back to France, where Parisians began to prefer its taste and the thriftiness of adding chicory. Since chicory could be grown in parts of Europe where coffee could not, the root was obviously cheaper. How it made its way to the United States is unknown.
For many years it was used to stretch coffee supplies, especially in hard times such as the Civil War. This practice upset many purists, who disdained chicory and other additives. Somewhere along the way, however, New Orleanians developed a taste for chicory in coffee blends and many prefer it today. Throughout the New Orleans area, chicory has been used as a flavor additive. Local coffee companies have kept up with demand by offering the same blends with and without chicory. Within the city, coffee and chicory are consumed in greater quantities than anywhere else. Outside of the city, most coffee drinkers imbibe pure coffee instead.
I was always told that Chicory was related to the radish and that is what I wrote on this page. But you savvy readers won't let me make such errors: Chicory is in the plant family Compositae or Asteraceae, the sunflower family. Think Jerusalem artichoke. Radish is in the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family, the mustard family. Thanks for keeping me honest! -Tom