The counter filled with dignitaries and debutantes, farmers and fishermen.
Each came with money in hand for a powdered beignet and a caffeine buzz. Those great social equalizers.
There, over cups of coffee and sticky fingers, class distinction fell away. The hierarchy was flattened. You either liked that combination of bitter and sweet or you didn’t. That simple.
NOLA’s coffee culture has been brewing for centuries. In the 1700s, beans came through its ports from Cuba and the Caribbean, Latin America. By the early 18th century, New Orleanians had developed a taste for the stuff. Coffee stalls crowded the halls of the French Market.
“Cafe noir! Cafe au lait!”
Rose Nicaud, a freed slave, was known to attract customers by calling out her famous brews. “Like the benediction that follows after prayer,” one customer described her coffee. It was a religious rite, transcendental. People were hooked.
In 1862, Fred Koeniger joined the ranks of the caffeine peddlers that came before him. He opened his own stall in the French Market. Café du Monde.
He started small. Coffee only. The drink lacked a suitable counterpoint. He would find it in the beignet.
The exact date these fritters were introduced to du Monde’s menu is unknown. There’s some debate as to how beignets even got to New Orleans in the first place.