Some years, I grow chicory as a salad green. ‘Italiko Rosso’, which has red-veined leaves, is one I have grown that is particularly beautiful in the garden. It also is good chopped up and added to salad or cooked like spinach then added to a pizza.
One year, I dug up the roots to roast for coffee. I really enjoy chicory coffee when I am in Louisiana visiting my sister, but it is pretty pricey here in Georgia. I thought I would make some of my own, since I had some chicory growing here in the yard.
The roots from my ‘Italiko Rosso’ were long but fairly slender, and after drying and roasting, there wasn’t much left to make into coffee. However, the flavor was good.
This year, I finally did a little research and found that there is a type of chicory that produces larger roots that is the source of most chicory coffee: it is called ‘Magdeburg’. (I ordered seeds to grow some this year, and my seed packet has already arrived.)
Leaves of this chicory type can still be harvested for greens, but the roots are supposed to be larger — a couple of inches across at the top. That is a lot larger diameter than the roots I dug up from ‘Italiko Rosso’, and it is also larger than most dandelion roots, which can be used as a coffee substitute in a similar way (the flavor is not quite the same).
The roots should be harvested in fall, after the plants have made their beautiful blue flowers. This means that the crop is good for our pollinators, too!
To prepare chicory roots to use as a coffee substitute, they need to be dug up, cleaned, and sliced into disks. Then, set the disks into your “usual dehydrating place.” For me, that is an actual electric dehydrator (I have an Excaliber Dehydrator that offers a range of temperature settings). For others, that might be on the back porch or in a closed-up car.
Then, the disks need to be roasted at about 300 degrees F for an hour-and-a-half or two hours. After the roasted disks are cool, they can be ground to use in coffee. This can be a long and loud process, and it is ok if there are still some little chunks in the ground-up coffee.
Not everyone will want to give over a large space in the garden for the entire summer, just for some chicory coffee. This year, though, I am traveling again for much of the summer. This is a crop that I can plant, mulch, and let grow without worry.
If you want to skip the whole “grow your own” part and leap straight into the coffee part, it is possible to purchase Organic Roasted Chicory Root Granules to either make into coffee on their own or to use with regular coffee as a way to add that New Orleans flavor.