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.
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.