Blogger's Note: Not surprising to those who live here, New Orleans might just be where the morning coffee break originated early in the 20th century. You can walk down any number of streets in the French Quarter of New Orleans and see coffee shops at many levels of repair, or charming lack there of, the local houses all offering the same potent morning brew - Coffee with Chicory. Coffee society in New Orleans began with one woman, Rose Nicaud. Located on historic Frenchmen Street in the French Quarter, the aptly named Cafe' Rose Nicaud, gives us her story, and the beginning of our city's long-standing love affair with coffee.
(Above) "B&W Photo: Circa 1940's, Workers unloading coffee at the New Orleans waterfront in New Orleans, Louisiana. 'Every fourth cup of coffee drunk in the United States enters this country through the port of New Orleans. To handle the four hundred million pounds of coffee imported each year, principally from Brazil, New Orleans has built the finest coffee import terminal in the world. The terminal, shown in this picture is nearly 1400 feet long. The two-story structure just off Canal Street cost $2,000,000. A large part of this imported coffee issued by roasting plants in New Orleans, where it is blended with chicory. Most New Orleans restaurants feature their famous 'French drip' coffee.'" Photo courtesy of the State Library of Louisiana.
From the Cafe Rose Nicaud website article The Story of Rose Nicaud:
"In the early 1800's Rose Nicaud became the first known coffee vendor in New Orleans. Rose, then a slave, saw the opportunity to provide a service to French Market vendors, workers and shoppers by providing them with fresh, hot coffee. Rose created a portable cart which she pushed through the market on Sundays, selling 'Cafe Noir ou Cafe au Lait.' Her entrepreneurial efforts were a quickly a success. One customer is quoted to have said, 'Her coffee is like the benediction that follows after prayer.'
It is likely that Rose provided the majority of her earnings from the day's sales to her owner, as this was the typical arrangement. She saved the portion she was allowed to keep until she had enough to buy her freedom. Rose's earliest customers stood next to her cart to drink their coffee. Later, she created a permanent stand in the Market, and her customers were provided with seating. Rose's success inspired dozens of other women of color, who sold coffee from small portable stands.
In the 19th and early 20th century, many resourceful women of color in New Orleans made their living and supported their families by selling coffee, pralines, calas and other food and drink in the French Market and on the streets of the city's old neighborhoods. They were known as Les Vendeuses.