Cafe au Lait

The two cups of cafe au lait I have every morning are a wonderful addiction. I make them with Union coffee and chicory, brewed so dark that it leaves the side of the cup deep brown for a moment when I swirl it. I mix that with an equal amount of milk, and the pleasure commences.

I don’t understand why everyone in the world doesn’t drink coffee and chicory. The use of chicory in coffee began during a coffee shortage in the reign of Napoleon. It spread to New Orleans, where it remained the vogue after people everywhere else stopped drinking it. The chicory is the root of a variety of endive, roasted and ground. It doesn’t really taste like coffee, but the flavor it adds is quite complimentary. One other benefit: chicory, while contributing about 65 percent of the brew’s intensity, has no caffeine.

Serious purists insist that great coffee and chicory can only be brewed in an enamel coffee “biggin,” to which you must add the hot water a little at a time manually. I find that a good drip coffeemaker–especially the kind with cone-shaped filters–does just as fine a job, if you use enough coffee. Err on the side of too much ground coffee, and step it back if it’s too strong.

Union coffee and chicory comes in a soft green 12-ounce bag. It’s in every local supermarket except Winn-Dixie. Other good brands include CDM, French Market, and (with a woodsy, rustic flavor) RT. I’m not crazy about the widely-distributed but relatively light Community New Orleans Blend.

  • 1/2 cup ground coffee and chicory
  • 5 cups water
  • 4 cups milk

Brew the coffee normally in a drip coffeemaker. Fill mugs half-full with milk and heat in a microwave oven until steaming. Add sugar to your taste and stir. Pour the coffee in, and observe the pleasant light foam of the milk on the coffee

Serves eight. Or, more likely, four. Everyone wants a second go-round of this stuff.

15 Readers Commented

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  1. DARREN on February 17, 2014

    I agree with you Tom. Unfortunately all the coffee shops, Starbucks, PJ’s etc. are helping to dilute this tradition. Even PJ’s is now out of Atlanta, not here and they don’t even offer coffee and chicory.
    By the way Mellow Joy coffee out of Lafayette is a good product. It is now sold here, it is a French roast, very dark, but no chicory

  2. James on February 17, 2014

    Excellent instructions!

  3. elizabeth on February 17, 2014

    Tom, I would love to use whole milk but I am lactose intolerant! What are my best choices? Soy milk?

  4. John on February 18, 2014

    Is the Union cup available in stores?

  5. Lynn on February 18, 2014

    Love your recipe because its almost exactly like mine. I will now look for Union coffee when I am in New Orleans and try. Have been using the Community New Orleans blend since its all I can get living out of state. I prefer French Market and stock up with I can. The only difference I do\ is add my sugar to the coffee and pour 1/2 cup of boiled milk which I have whipped up. I drink 2 cups but my husband drinks black coffee. He also says the older I get the stronger my coffee is….its just like my momma’s coffee too!

  6. john on February 18, 2014

    Darren, I bought some Mellow Joy at the Gulfport Wal-Mart. I tried it at home and was disappointed. I used to get Union years ago after I heard Tom talking about it on the radio and really liked it. I think we can get Union at the Gulfport Rouses.

    • DARREN on February 18, 2014

      Did you possible buy the medium roast instead of the dark roast? The bags are nearly identical. It is not as good as Union but then again there is no chicory in it.

      • John on February 19, 2014

        Darren, I got the medium roast. Thanks for the tip. I will look closer next time.

  7. Nicole Miller on February 18, 2014

    I would only amend your instructions by saying use raw sugar, the kind that has a hint of molasses in it. White sugar is boring.

    • Tom Fitzmorris Author on February 18, 2014

      Come to one of our Eat Club dinners and we will have a blind taste-test to see if any difference can be noted between the two sugars in a cup of coffee. We will use the three-sample technique of the flavor biz: two of one and one of the other. You have to pick out which two are the same.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

      • Nicole Miller on February 21, 2014

        I will gladly take you up on this challenge–some day. I live in Illinois, but I do get to New Orleans for a visit every couple years. I will say that my father, a native New Orleanian, also prefers the raw sugar. We both drink cafe au lait every morning, so our palates are attuned to having it that way.

  8. Don Boggs on February 20, 2014

    Mr. Fitzmorris,
    Took me a while, but I am writing to say I enjoyed your piece on cafe au lait. This is in the nature of soliciting your opinion, but ….
    I like coffee with chicory. There is little choice available where I live and I make do with Community. But when I am in New Orleanns I make a point of buying a bag or can of whatever I can find that isn’t locally available, maybe more than one bag in the case of Union. I seem to have developed a taste for the house brand from Rouse’s. Have you had that and – if so – what do you think of it? Thanks
    Don Boggs

    • Tom Fitzmorris Author on February 20, 2014

      It’s not dark enough for my palate, but there’s no reason why we should agree totally about this. Enjoy!

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

      • Bo on October 24, 2014

        Have you tried the Orleans Coffee Exchange Creole Coffee and Chickory, this has become my favorite coffee brand, my second favorite is the Tchoupitoulas blend. Definitely worth a try available at Rouses.

        • Tom Fitzmorris Author on October 27, 2014

          I have had it, and it’s very good. Just a little hard to find.

          Tastefully yours,
          Tom Fitzmorris