It’s Fat Tuesday… and while thousands throng Bourbon Street in New Orleans — parlaying their, er… assets for beads — I’m more inclined to think of the Big Easy’s less trafficked locales. The wizened mansions of the Garden District. The tucked-away little family taverns, deep in the French Quarter. The hidden courtyards and walled gardens. And the grand old coffee houses.
Yes, there’s more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras, and more to New Orleans coffee than Cafe du Monde. Sadly, the venerable Kaldi’s Coffeehouse and Museum is no more… its museum aspect was no affectation — it’d just been in business that long, and it’s worn wood-plank floors and battle-scarred counters told a story, as did its selection of just-roasted, brewed coffees. I never had chicory-laced coffee at Kaldi’s. You know what? I never missed it.
To get an update on New Orleans’ French Quarter coffee scene, I contacted Mr. Nolajava himself, Bill Siemers of Orleans Coffee Exchange. Bill had just returned from a visit to Costa Rica’s Tarrazu county, but he took a few moments to point me in the direction of some coffee houses served by his roasting company. Among them, Royal Blend Coffee & Tea House [on Royal Street, of course] looks to offer traditional French Quarter courtyard surroundings, while Cafe Beignet at Royal and Decatur is reputed to one-up Cafe Du Monde in the square donut department. For a touch of class, try the sophisticated surroundings of the elegant Windsor Court Hotel — Bill roasts their signature house blend.
Of course, if Fat Tuesday finds you far away from New Orleans, there’s no reason not to enjoy cafe au lait at home. Start with strong, dark-roasted coffee… think Viennese or French roast, deep into second crack. French-drip brewing is, of course, preferred, but nearly any brew method will do. Slowly heat a similar amount of fresh, whole milk in a saucepan — don’t let it boil — but heat it just shy [about 170 F.] until it forms a milky skin on top. Skim the milk, then combine the two to taste — one or two parts coffee to two parts milk — and enjoy.
Oh… and the chicory? Save it for the dog.