By Ciera Miller
Café du Monde translates to “Coffee of the World” in French, and because of the name it’s made for itself since its opening in 1862, I don’t doubt that it is indeed the Coffee of the World. But there’s a dual meaning of the French word café, which leads to its second reputation as the Coffeehouse of the World. So what about Café du Monde gives it such a famous reputation?
Coffee growth began in New Orleans when the Spanish settled there in 1763. But Café du Monde, of course, is a French phrase, not Spanish. That’s because Acadian (French Canadian) people lived there, too, and they put their own touch into the coffee culture that was beginning to thrive around them in their own part of New Orleans – the French Quarter, which still stands today. The Acadians had brought the French’s favorite coffee substitute to New Orleans: chicory, a bitter Egyptian endive root. This was very popular among the francophone people all over the world because of Napoleon’s Continental Blockade of 1806 against Britain, which worked well for him politically, but did not work well for the francophones’ coffee intake. Coffee was scarce, and so they came up with a temporary replacement. Eventually, when coffee was available to them again, they continued to add chicory to the beverage for its flavor.
Today, dark roasted chicory coffee is the delicious staple of Café du Monde, and has been since its opening. Sweeten it with sugar or drink it black, either way is fine. But try to order its French specialty, the café au lait: a coffee that’s equal parts coffee and hot milk. But if you’re not feeling hot coffee, have an iced, or if you’re not feeling coffee at all, enjoy fresh-squeezed orange juice or a soda. And don’t forget to have a snack.
Café du Monde is famous for only serving one food item, its beignet (French for “fritter”). But what exactly is a beignet? “The beignet is like a hot little pocket of air,” is how my friend, who has visited the coffee stand, describes Café du Monde’s beignet. “You pop it and powdered sugar in, and then a puff of warm air covers your cheeks and your lips. I remember the powdered sugar and dough taste was flaky and stuck to my tongue for a while afterwards.” It’s like a little pillow of powdered sugar, leaving you warm and fuzzy like you’d just woken up from a nap. Originally, these pastries were called French doughnuts, but now beignet, true to the French heritage Café du Monde has, is their official term. At the cafe, they serve three beignets per order, so you get a little pillow of Heaven three times instead of just one. Try dipping one in your cafe au lait if you’re brave.
The first Café du Monde opened in the midst of the Civil War, and it wasn’t even called Café du Monde at that point: it was called The Butcher’s Hall. But its name changed as time went on, and it even changed ownership. In 1942, it was bought by the Fernandez family who owns it now. It still stands in New Orleans today, at the end of the French Market and on the corner of Jackson Square. It never closes, save for Christmas or for some type of emergency, like when its kitchen went up in flames in 2001 and in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit. But there’s always a long line of people waiting to get in when it does reopen. They stand outside the fenced area, longing for the tables under the green and white striped awning and the menu that’s remained relatively unchanged for 150 years.
And the location of Café du Monde has remained relatively unchanged as well. Its only true home is Louisiana, for all of the locations of the coffee stand are located there. However, there is one exception. At the World’s Fair in 1984, the Japanese company Duskin managed to convince the Fernandez family to allow it to open a location in Japan, and so now the cafe has two homes. But Café du Monde will always be an epicenter of New Orleans culture, even though we know of its existence worldwide.
Sources: Cafe du Monde,A Quick History of New Orleans’ Famous Café du Monde,1862: The first cup at Cafe Du Monde,Powdered Sugar Pillows: The History of the Beignet, The History of the Chicory Coffee Mix That New Orleans Made Its Own Read