As a devout coffee lover, I’ve always been pretty faithful to my Bodum French Press and a freshly-ground, velvety, medium roast.
I’ve also become very accustomed to the jittery, over-caffeinated feeling that comes with enjoying one too many cups of my favorite brew. If you’ve experienced the caffeine jitters or just plain want to improve your health, then welcome, friend! I have news for you.
And that news is called Chicory.
If you haven’t heard of chicory coffee yet, you’re in luck. I’ve rounded up all the info I could find on this caffeine-free coffee substitute, and I’m going to share it all with you right here.
Along with that, I’ve done some pretty intense testing (OK…so I just drank a bunch of chicory coffee while binge watching every episode of The Office).
So grab a snack and your favorite cup of joe and settle in. This article takes an in-depth look at everything you need to know about the chicory coffee trend right now.
What is Chicory Coffee?
First off, it pays to know what chicory is. Chicory is a plant from the dandelion family. It has a tough stem and pale violet flowers that you might have seen used in salads or to decorate dishes.
To make chicory coffee, the root of the chicory plant is dug up, cleaned—because nobody wants soil in their coffee—and dried. It can then be shredded, peeled, or cubed, and baked until it gets dry and golden. After that, you can leave it to cool before grinding it to coffee-ground texture.
Chicory coffee can be done in one of two ways—either mixed in with ground coffee beans, or brewed on its own. On its own, chicory has a woody, nutty, slightly bitter flavor.
Coffee fiends everywhere will probably find it surprisingly similar to a medium coffee roast.
The History of Chicory
The word chicory comes from the Egyptian word "ctchorium". This is the original name given to the chicory plant, which has been used for centuries as a food source, medicine, and animal feed.
Chicory and Humans
Chicory was cultivated by ancient Egyptians in 3000 BC, and used as a medicine to cleanse the liver. In ancient Rome and Greece it was used as a food, with Horace, Pliny, and Virgil mentioning it in their works.
In the 1600s, the older, larger roots were used in northern European countries as an animal feed. The younger roots were a popular delicacy in places like Belgium, because it was more sweet and tender.
Throughout these times, coffee was an extremely popular beverage around the globe. In some places, especially around the Mediterranean Sea, coffee was a sign of wealth and an indicator of your social ranking.
The Invention of Chicory Coffee
Then, in the 1800s, when Napoleon led France into the Continental Blockade, tragedy struck: the country ran out of coffee. In fact, many parts of Europe experienced the coffee shortage.
Desperate to find a substitute for their beloved drink, people tried blending plants, spices, and leaves to find a similar flavor. Chicory turned out to have the closest flavor profile, and so the chicory coffee love affair began.
After the Continental Blockade, coffee gradually made its way back to France, but the use of chicory in coffee didn’t completely disappear. In the 1860s, for example, France exported millions of pounds of chicory to its colonies—like Louisiana, Algeria, Tunisia, and Tahiti.
Chicory Coffee and the American Civil War
Fast forward to the American Civil War, when the Union blockaded the port at New Orleans. As one of the largest importers of coffee at the time, coffee lovers were hit where it hurt.
Java addicts had to come up with something to ease their withdrawal symptoms, and so chicory coffee made a return to the mainstream.
But New Orleans did things a little different. Instead of using straight chicory, locals used the root to stretch their coffee supply. Blends were made of varying strengths and tastes
Chicory Coffee today
New Orleans obviously did such a good job with their coffee-substitute blends that even after coffee made a comeback, many locals decided that they actually liked the chicory version better.
Even Café du Monde, arguably one of the world’s most famous cafes, still has a popular classic on the menu: a café au lait with chicory, paired with a delicious, fresh beignet.
Today, chicory coffee is considered to be one the most popular caffeine-free coffee alternatives in the world.
What is Chicory Made Of?
Chicory—the plant—is minced, roasted, and brewed from its raw root. It’s hard to say how much of anything is in one specific chicory coffee brew, but generally speaking, 60 grams of raw chicory root carries:
Chicory Root Nutritional Facts
Serving size: 60g
It is also a source of vitamins including:
- Vitamin C
It’s important to keep in mind that the amount of these nutrients is going to be really low, so you don’t want to class chicory coffee as part of your daily vitamin intake.
Effectively, the amount of actual chicory root in your chicory coffee is so low that the vitamin intake is almost negligible.
Despite that, there are a bunch of benefits to swapping out your straight caffeine fix for chicory coffee. If you’re interested in those, I wrote an article all about the benefits of chicory coffee here.
But if you just want a basic run-down of all the things chicory has been praised for, here you go…
What is Chicory Used For?
- Fresh chicory root in boiled water (as a sort of tea) has been used for pulmonary consumption, jaundice, and liver illnesses.
- Chicory syrup has been used as a laxative for constipation.
- Herbalists in the 18th century used the leaves for swelling and sight problems.
- 19th century French chefs served it at the end of a meal, as a sedative to counteract alcohol and caffeine.
- Herbalists have (since the 19th century) used chicory to increase bile production, stimulate the digestive system, and—more recently—lower cholesterol.
- Recent studies have backed up the cholesterol claims, too. Chicory increases HDL and lowers LDL in animals.
How to Make Chicory Coffee From Scratch
There are several ways of making chicory coffee from scratch, so I’m going to go with the one I liked the most. It’s pretty time intensive, but the results were flavorful and the smells coming out of my oven in the drying process were heavenly.
If you enjoy creating your own personal coffee brew, chicory coffee can be a lot of fun. Here’s how I make mine.
I'll forewarn you, making chicory coffee takes a while, and it's much easier to just buy pre-made ground chicory coffee. Scroll down to see my personal favorite!
Things you’re going to need:
- Chicory root
- Good coffee beans
- A good quality coffee grinder (I use this one)
- A French press (or whatever you usually use for your brew)
Step 1. Prepare the chicory
- Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.
- Clean the chicory roots completely, and allow to dry completely. If you can’t wait, dry them with paper towels.
- Once they’ve dried, cut the chicory roots into small cubes—ideally, cubes as small as coffee beans. There’s no need to peel them first.
- Lay the cubed chicory root on a baking tray and bake for 90 minutes, or until the chicory is golden and dried.
- Allow to cool overnight (see? Told you this was a long process!)
Step 2. Create your chicory coffee blend
- Once your chicory is completely cooled, place the dried pieces into your coffee grinder
- Set to whatever coarseness you use for your coffee beans, and grind, grind, grind.
- Grind your coffee beans
- Create your blend.
- Pro tip: Chicory is more bitter than coffee, so think about your taste buds and your goals. Do you like a dark roast? If so, try a 50/50 chicory/coffee blend. Do you prefer a light roast? Go with 1 part chicory to 3 parts coffee, and adjust from there.
Step 3. Brew your chicory coffee
This is the simple part: just brew your creation however you normally brew your coffee, but for a little bit longer.
I love a good French press, and I usually let my coffee sit for 4 minutes before pressing. With the chicory coffee, 4 minutes just left me with a slightly diluted coffee flavor. 5 minutes gave me a more full-bodied, slightly quirkier drink.
Step 4. Experiment with your chicory coffee
Once I got the hang of brewing chicory coffee—a pretty simple process, really—I decided to get a little wild with it. In different brews, I’ve added cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, cloves, vanilla, and mixed spice. Freshly scraped vanilla bean and whipping cream was heavenly, just FYI.
Can I Buy Pre-Made Chicory Coffee?
Yes, you can!
In fact, I actually recommend buying it pre-made unless you're just a serious DIYer that likes to make things from scratch.
While making chicory coffee from scratch is an amazing experience and gives you more flexibility, most of the times I make it from a bag. And my go-to brand is Rasa. I get here from Honey Colony and it's DE-LI-CIOUS!
It's completely caffeine-free, which is perfect since I started weaning myself off coffee. And here are some of my other favorite places to buy chicory coffee.
Want to try chicory coffee for the first time? Check out some of my favorite chicory coffee recipes!