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Nothing Easy About Finding (Good) Coffee in New Orleans

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My family (wife and daughter plus parents, brother and his partner) spent the Christmas holiday together in New Orleans. We indulged in touristy endeavors – a stroll along the river, the Natchez River cruise, the Audobon Zoo, the Aquarium, and wandering around the French Quarter. We ate some great food including beignets at Cafe Du Monde, fantastic fried shrimp po-boys at Domilese’s (call ahead), and a fantastic fried beef jerky, mushroom and parsley salad (amongst other things) at the pretentious, but delicious NOLA-influenced food at Cochon. We watched my daughter open quite a few presents, and we (actually just my father and I) went to see what all the fuss is about with Bourbon Street, which lived up to my low expectations as one of the least appealing places on Earth. I couldn’t decide which aspect of this frat party that forgot to grow up was the worst: the depressing level of drunkenness at all hours of the day; the bad and very loud music pouring out from the bars, the mother pushing a stroller past strip clubs at 11 PM or another mother telling her 9 year old that he’d like it better when he grew up. New Orleans has some bright spots, but Bourbon street is not one.

Overall, it was a good, if somewhat hectic, family vacation; organizing this many people to do anything is never easy. If you’re planning a trip there, however, my one piece of advice is that you do as I did, and BYOC. I packed my travel kit consisting of whirly blade grinder and aeropress – soon to be swapped out for a hopefully soon in stock Hario hand grinder and a recently purchased in-cup french press (sadly now on sale for half what I paid!) – along with some recently thawed Ethiopian Koratie and Ecco Caffe Decaf. This small dose of coffee sanity saved my family from the schizophrenic outburst that ensues when no quality coffee can be found. New Orleans may have ubiquitous liquor, loads of tasty fried food, and plenty of decadence and debauchery, but I’ll be damned if they can provide a decent cup of coffee.

Not finding good coffee wasn’t due to a lack of trying. I checked out the usual sources, including Coffee Geek’s forums, the collection of blogs you see to the right of this post, and random but fruitful internet finds such as this local coffee blog. I assembled my pinpricked map of locations with coffee potential, but as you’ll see in subsequent reviews, I ended up sticking to spots within the French Quarter. I never did get to Kahve Royal, Rue de la Course or Z’otz, but thanks to the advanced scouting of another trusted coffee blogger (1, 2, 3, 4), I concluded that it wasn’t worth expending logistical energy or familial capital to make these trips happen. I also never got to Mojo Coffee House – despite accidentally passing by it without time to stop – and only discovered Sucre after I got home. I’m not particularly optimistic about either of these two options based on the other coffee I tasted in the city, but I am curious to hear any first-hand reports.

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I’m not entirely clear why coffee in New Orleans is so dreadfully mediocre. Certainly none of the establishments that I could find served coffee from some of the country’s better roasters – something that’s not particularly hard to do these days. Nevertheless, the websites of Orleans Coffee Exchange/Coffee Roasters of New Orleans/New Orleans Coffee Works (who provides the vast majority of the city’s cafes with their coffee) and Try Me Coffee Mills would suggest that New Orleans has two roasters at least capable of producing decent coffee. That said, the volume of French Roasted beans and flavored coffees (including Chicory) produced by these two roasters says a lot about local coffee expectations. So too did the demonstrated lack of skill and attention to quality coffee I experienced “at the pump” of the several cafes I visited. I never did get to prepare any of these coffees myself so I don’t pretend to be able to judge the actual quality of the coffees prepared for me, but my guess is that there’s simply an embedded culture of bad coffee in the city, one that I hope is changing. Unfortunately, the coffee revolution didn’t arrive in time for my trip.

So stay tuned for a bumpy coffee ride.

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14 comments to Nothing Easy About Finding (Good) Coffee in New Orleans

  • Maybe it depends on whether your palate can handle chicory or not, or your taste for cafe au lait. Anyway, try finding a decent cup in Ireland some time. You’ll think that New Orleans is Italy in comparison.

  • Ummm, go and visit those places you missed. Please. I’d say you barely tried to find good coffee here. Staying only in the French Quarter is a huge mistake. Next time, make an effort to get beyond those few blocks….there’s a whole ‘nother city beyond.

  • Actually, I do regret not getting out to Magazine Street and the University area more than I did – sometimes you can’t do it all. But while I think those other places do have a lot to offer as a city (I’m not basing all of New Orleans on the Quarter), I’m still not that convinced there’s much better coffee outside the Quarter – at least the reviews I read didn’t sound all that promising. That said, if you have specific recommendations, please post them here.

  • You’ve mentioned a good many of them already. Mojo. Rue. Z’otz. Kahve. Only ones missing are Bayou Coffee House, Still Perkin’, Magazine Perks, Neutral Ground Coffee House, the Bean Gallery, and possibly CC’s.

    Whatever your perfect cup is, since you travel with your coffee-making goods, blind taste-test a little. I assume you’re packing your whirly blade grinder in the bag you check on, otherwise it’d get confiscated. Go for some takeout coffee from one spot a day, brew up your stuff, put ‘em in two same-size, same-shaped cups, and taste away.

  • [...] is why I would urge folks such as this one to get out of the Quarter and sample more coffees.  The Quarter is there these days for only a few [...]

  • Francine

    Next time, I likewise recommend venturing beyond the quarter. But within its bounds you missed some good cafes. CC’s on Royal Street has a divine specialty known as the Mochasippi and Croissant d’Or over on Ursulines.

  • New Orleans is my home. I love so many things about it. The food, the culture, the attitude and the good times. I also love the coffee. I will qualify this by saying that I own a local coffee roaster with my partner, Bob Arceneaux. (Coffee Roasters of New Orleans, Orleans Coffee Exchange and New Orleans Coffee Works are all under our umbrella. They were all separate companies that merged over the years.) I and two of my employees are current members of the Barista Guild. My partner Bob was for years a member of the executive counsel of the Roasters Guild. We buy coffees that we love and roast each one to it’s own individual perfection. (of course this is largely subjective) I have many customers locally who do a very good job preparing our coffee. I have many who do not. This is always a tricky situation. How do you get your customers to have the same passion for coffee that you have? We have begun a series of barista trainings that we do for free here in New Orleans in the hope that, even if owners don’t have the time for passion, we will eventually have a pool of great baristas to raise our city’s coffee IQ. Being a city that relies almost totally on the tourists for revenue makes this a very difficult journey. Many French Quarter Businesses can only see today’s quantity of customers (most of whom will never return) as short term gain and ignore today’s market of big chain competition. I believe serving great coffee will lead the small business to long term gain. Locals here do love the independent shops. I agree that you do have to hunt down good coffee in New Orleans. Next time you’re in town, give us a call, and we’ll send you in the right direction.

    Tom Oliver
    orleanscoffee.com
    800-737-5464

  • Hi Tom, Thanks for your comments. You’ve totally hit the nail on the head – even with good roasting, it can all break down at the pump (not to excuse bad roasting, bad processing, bad farming, etc.). I’ve heard about a few of your trainings – I know when my brother was a barista that he visited your facility and spoke about the total eye-opening experience that the training was for him. Please keep up the good work. I’ll definitely be in touch next time – I’d love to try some of your coffee the way it was intended to be prepared to see its true potential.

  • There is definitely room for growth… Which is why my wife and I started a roasting company!

    Lost Sheep Coffee Company

    We have been roasting for the farmer’s markets for the past six months, and heard some great reviews on the product. We are trying to gather some money to increase our inventory (found some AWESOME Sidamo that needs to be shared with the microcosm that is New Orleans), and there are some other great options out there.

    The Savvy Gourmet gave us a shot with some cafe space, and the product was knock-out. We didn’t have the funds available to develop the space, and the project went under. It is currently under construction in the hands of another party, but we’ll see how that goes.

    We recently branched out into the wholesale market, and our Sumatra “Espresso” Roast is in Fairgrinds Coffee House in Mid City.

    We cannot help but grow slowly with the resources we have available, but we promise: we’re coming.

    The Sheep (Rory and myself) are very passionate about coffee, and won’t settle for anything less than the best we can crank out. Even that isn’t good enough for us.

    Our plans for a roasting facility are under way (the front porch is getting crowded), and we’re hoping to help educate New Orleans, one cup at a time.

    There is a bar that we are also working with in a very unique relationship. We are looking to start something (different) by merging the largest two cultures New Orleans has to offer: booze and coffee. Maybe a bar/cafe/roasting plant/coffee supply store/elementary education on brewing…

    Email us. We’ll send you a sample. Send us money, we’ll see what we can do for you. Ha! No, for reals–we need to get this firestorm burning.

    Cheers,
    Rory and Paul

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  • I hadn’t actually thought about whether they would confiscate it. This time it was checked, although I have brought them on as carry on before. Hmmm?

    I do regret not getting some Coffee Roasters of New Orleans to try out at home. Sadly, that was one more step than I could handle on this particularly trip. When I get my first big bundle of venture capital funding to take this up professionally, I’ll won’t be so lax in my procedures =).

  • I did go to CC’s – review to come. Didn’t make it to Croissant d’Or – sounds like it’s too bad I missed the pastries. I won’t speculate on the coffee.

  • Good to hear that the gap may be getting filled. Email sent.

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