A Legacy of Empire
“My husband is Vietnamese. So he always has to have chicory in his coffee.”
The woman next to me in the check-out at our Asian market had a bag of Chicory in her cart. “I’m Thai,” she said. “But my husband is Vietnamese,” she added, with a touch of pride. “So he always has to have Chicory in his coffee. I pick up a bag from time to time so I can make his coffee the way he likes it.” Two loaves of French baguette bread in her cart completed the picture.
It’s a legacy of the former French Empire. Many residents of the former French Indochina continue to take their coffee in the French way, with Chicory.
They also enjoy French style breads like baguette or ficelle. And the Vietnamese Sandwiches, made with French bread an a vast range of fillings, are a perfect example of Fusion cuisine.
Roast Chicory is baked, ground and used as a coffee additive. Added to coffee, chicory makes the resulting brew darker in color and adds a note of bitterness, characteristic of the French style of roasting.
Although the Dutch may have started the idea of adding roasted chicory to coffee, the practice is common in the Mediterranean area of Europe, including France, and also in Southeastern Asia and parts of the Southern United States. It’s also used in Indian Filtered Coffee.
How does Chicory taste in coffee? It may be described as an acquired taste: either you like it or you don’t often at first taste. It does add a note of darkness to the final roast, a touch of bitterness.
Some would say Chicory intensifies the richness and aroma of good coffee beans roasted correctly.
Nutritionally, Chicory contains inulin and may have some benefits for digestion and improving bone density. Some brewers add chicory to their beer to impart a bitter edge.
In North America, many people of Southeastern Asian origin add chicory to their coffee. There are also a range of coffees blended in Vietnamese style like the Trung Ngyuen Coffee from the Vietnamese Coffee Company.
Some people buy chicory and mix it with coffee, like our Thai friend, and it is available in bags from companies like Community Coffee of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Many Asian consumers in North American just buy their coffee ready mixed with chicory, in a French style roast, like the coffee from Cafe du Monde of New Orleans. This company now even has a chicory coffee with no caffeine..
The same people often make their coffee in the French style, as cafe filtre, in small metal coffee presses.
Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee producer, after Brazil. Most of their coffee exports end up in instant coffee, but Vietnamese producers like the Trung Nguyen people and some others are working to improve and market high end branded typical Vietnamese varieties.
Vietnam is one of the leading producers of the Robusta variety, which is in demand worldwide for Instant Coffee, especially in emerging coffee markets like China, Russia and Indonesia, where the preferred beverage is a cup of instant coffee with milk or cream and sugar.
And Vietnam produces some of the most expensive and exotic coffee beans in the world, called Chon Coffee. This results from the excretion of the coffee beans by palm civet cats, so that the beans are flavored with the digestive enzymes of the animals. That is another story in itself