Could New Orleans Be the Next U.S. Coffee Capital?

Drinking and NOLA have always gone hand-in-hand—but now, the Crescent City is really jazzed about the caffeinated stuff.

Could New Orleans Be the Next U.S. Coffee Capital?

Courtesy of French Truck Coffee

If you’re going to travel to become a certified barista, you might as well go somewhere fun. At least, that’s how Geoffrey Meeker, owner of French Truck Coffee, a burgeoning empire based out of New Orleans, sees it. With six locations to his name (including one in a 100-year-old double shotgun house with rocking chairs on the front porch), Meeker is part of a network of NOLA-based small-batch roasters giving coffee drinkers a new reason to head there.

In addition to Meeker’s six shops, he also oversees a barista training campus that’s certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. Known simply as SCAA, the organization is essentially the gold standard when it comes to specialty coffee. As such, it attracts a high caliber of baristas, who follow a strict curriculum.

“This is like coffee college,” jokes Meeker, who offers two or three classes a month at currently the only SCAA-certified barista training campus in all of Louisiana. Equipped with a 2 Group espresso machine, regulation-size bean grinders, V60 pour-over filters, French presses, and other gadgetry necessary for both mechanical and manual brewing, the French Truck Coffee “lab” is a coffee nerd’s heaven.

If initiation into the world of bean grinders and milk sculpting sounds like your kind of thing, a move to the Big Easy might not be a bad idea. With an infectious jazz scene and some of America’s most romantic architecture, New Orleans consistently ranks as one of the best-loved destinations in the South—and in 2018, visitors are pouring in stronger than ever, as the high-spirited city gets ready to celebrate its 300th birthday.

In tandem with all this excitement, it’s fitting that residents finally have some options when it comes to highbrow caffeination. A mile away from French Truck Coffee, on Tchoupitoulas Street, Mojo Coffee Roasters is another well-reviewed micro-roaster with several locations around the city. Congregation Coffee, in Algiers Point, has lately won over residents with its purist approach and funky alligator logo. And just a few weeks ago, Coffee Science, a minimalist space with polished wood floors and a backyard, opened to much fanfare.

“It’s expanding very rapidly,” says Meeker of the java craze that’s sweeping town. Not that this should be surprising in a city known for its obsession with crawfish tails, sazeracs, and Creole-Italian fusion. “We don’t do things halfway in New Orleans—when it comes to food and beverage, we take it to the Nth degree.”

Inside the 1900s, quintessential New Orleans home—painted the company’s signature canary yellow—that’s been transformed into Meeker’s latest uptown outpost, customers show up early on Saturday morning to claim one of the coveted rocking chairs. Indeed, the allure goes beyond just coffee: the Dryades Street café is set up with a full-blown kitchen, and the all-day breakfast menu features a maple syrup–drizzled waffle sandwich made with smoked ham, cheddar, and scrambled egg. The sweet-savory kick pairs great with a cup of single-origin drip coffee from Colombia, Nicaragua, Brazil, or Ethiopia.

“Nobody is into coffee the way we are,” boasts Meeker, who hosts at least one cupping per month in each city where French Truck Coffee has a presence (for now, that’s New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Memphis). “There’s a huge range of tasting notes, similar to wine; things like green grape, cacao, pineapple, tobacco, and leather. We’re concentrating on taking care of the coffee so those notes can come out.”

Alex Schechter is a Los Angeles–based writer who loves forests, hot springs, and posole. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, AFAR, Travel+Leisure, Monocle, and LA Yoga, among other publications.
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