If it’s not the coffee capital of the world, New Orleans is definitely the coffee capital of the South. With so much to do here, it can be refreshing just to hide out at one of the many coffee shops scattered around the city, such as Rue de la Course on Carrollton Avenue or Café Rose Nicaud on Frenchmen. Each place is unique and provides various doses of caffeine, entertainment and space for solitude.
On Sunday afternoons, I like to ride my bike down Camp Street to the Still Perkin’ coffee shop on the corner of Prytania Street and Washington Avenue. Although Still Perkin’ doesn’t exactly have the counterculture vibe of shops in the Marigny and Bywater, there’s something eerily majestic about reading on the patio beneath mammoth oak trees, with the iconic Commander’s Palace sign within view and Lafayette Cemetery across the street.
Another haunt is the Royal Blend coffee shop on Royal Street in the Quarter. It’s such a hidden gem. Every time I go it’s empty, so I sit in the back at the same rickety table that boasts a nice view of the center courtyard and the raffish people who come and go. I’ve spent hours at a time in Royal Blend, taking care to sip serious drinks and read serious literature. It’s the type of place where I’d never order my usual “tall soy two-pump marble mocha macchiato.” And for the same reason, I always feel compelled to read The Portable Faulkner or pick up from where I left off in A Confederacy of Dunces.
I don’t feel as obliged to show similar deference at local chains such as Community Coffee, Puccino’s and PJ’s. But even so, patronizing the local franchises doesn’t feel as conformist as it does when I’m forced into Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts.
Café du Monde might take the cake as the quintessential New Orleans “coffee experience,” but there are plenty of other shops to garner the same –– if not better –– fix. There’s a New Orleans Coffee Festival on the first Saturday in October. And somewhere there’s a book about New Orleans’ love affair with coffee –– I’ve yet to find it though. Maybe it hasn’t been written.
In order to indulge in my fascination, I plan to visit almost all of the 75-plus coffee bars around the city. To date I’ve frequented La Divina Gelateria, Oak St Café, Café Luna, Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, Fuel, Riccobono, Magazine and Marigny Perks, The Bean Gallery, Village Coffee, Mojo, Covenant Café, Nola Beans, Angelo Brocato’s, Café Fleur de Lis, as well as the above-mentioned shops. I’ve yet to make it to the Neutral Ground, which I’ve been told is quite historic and charming and supposedly the oldest coffee shop in New Orleans.
It makes sense that coffee is steeped deeply in the culture here. New Orleans has always been the No. 1 coffee port in the country and one of the few places that truly relishes chicory root as an additive.
I don’t exactly yearn for chicory every time I set up shop. But when given the opportunity, I often choose chicory blends over all others. And though the bitterness of each sip makes me wonder why I continue to drink it, I’m quickly reminded that while sitting at Still Perkin’ or the Rue or wherever, it’s the one time I try to conform … not in a conventional way … but to the New Orleans way. And what’s not desirable about that?