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Blends and Blending: Blending with Chicory

Dark-roast coffee is sometimes blended with chicory, particularly in northern France, parts of Asia, and the southern United States. Chicory is an easily grown, disease-resistant relative of the dandelion. The young leaves, when used for salad, are called endive. The root resembles the dandelion root and, when dried, roasted, and ground, produces a deep brown, full-bodied, almost syrupy beverage that has a bitter peppery tang and does not taste at all like coffee. In fact, it tastes as if someone put pepper in your herbal tea mixture. It is almost impossible to drink black; sweetened with milk, it makes a fairly satisfying hot beverage, though it leaves a bitter, cloying aftertaste.

According to Heinrick Jacob in Coffee: The Epic of a Commodity, some Germans first exploited the use of chicory as a coffee substitute around 1770. The Germans adopted chicory because it lacked caffeine and (possibly most importantly) because it eluded the tariffs imposed on such foreign luxuries as coffee. Jacob describes the trademark on eighteenth-century packets of chicory: "A German farmer sowing chicory seed, and waving away ships freighted with coffee beans. Beneath was the legend: "Without you, healthy and rich." But it was under Napoleon's Continental System, a reverse blockade aimed at cutting England off from its European markets and making conquered Europe self- sufficient, that chicory came into its own. The French developed the sugar beet to replace sugarcane, but the chicory root was the best they could come up with for coffee. It was not much of a substitute, since it has neither caffeine nor the aromatic oils of coffee. After the collapse of the Napoleonic empire, most of the French went back to coffee, but some never totally lost their taste for chicory.

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Adapted from Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying; Espresso: Ultimate Coffee; and Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival. St. Martin's Press.
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