Though it has been enjoyed for more than fifteen hundred years, New Orleans set the standard for coffee and coffee stands over a century ago with the establishment of Cafe du Monde.
The lore of American coffee is in a way that of the port of Orleans’s parish itself. The farmers of farmer’s market traded heavily in it, coffee the way it was meant to be. The pleasant bitterness of chicory, scalded milk, more sugar than you’d ever admit and a plate loaded with a sweet powdered sugar pastry affectionately known as beignets. But there is another side of the French Quarter coffee experience, and it too lies on Decatur Street.
Three clocks from Cafe du Monde, towards the lower quarter, is the heart and mind of “Nawlin’s Coffee House Society”, a gallery of a place called simply; Kaldi’s.
Now Kaldi, you might remember, was a herdsman living in a hill region of ancient Ethiopia. As the legend goes he noticed that his goats were munching a shrub’s berries and then abandoning themselves to the most extravagant prancing. He too ate the berries and excitedly began dancing with the goats. A monk happened upon the scene, and soon the world ‘discovered’ coffee.
From Kaldi’s green beans to roasting and steeping, to espresso machines and cappuccino, about 350 million cups are brewed each day in America. But in a world of Cremora and Folger’s Crystals, finding the right type of coffee house can be a real soul searching venture. That’s what makes a place like Kaldi’s such an experience to enjoy.
With enough style to be a museum (it is), the forty-foot plus ceilings provide a perfect setting for the soft light which pours through the massive windows. On the back wall behind the battle station of a counter is a massive 3-D wall sculpture portraying the joint’s namesake in the thralls of his discovery.
Conveniently located on a busy corner, the riverside window seats provide a perfect perch by which you can watch the occasional hapless tourist trip on the uplifted sidewalk. The scent of coffee roasting, the inky notepads of the intelligentsia and a sound system that’s nearly subsonic makes Kaldi’s the coolest place to chill in New Orleans.
There is absolutely no better feeling than resting on the cool interior and sipping down a sweet Venetian Crème. Even though the recipe is a secret, this signature coffee’s flavor is by no means indescribable. Sweeter than sugar, thick like chocolate milk and made from cold drip coffee, the Venetian Crème could easily be confused with paradise on Earth.
The building itself just reeks history, and I can almost feel its spirit come alive. Originally the Old Canal Savings and Loans, it also shares its past with an adult bookstore, a nightclub “The Bank” and a dentist office (upstairs), and officially became a coffeehouse museum in October of 1989.
Opening early (before the bars never close) and open ’til at least midnight, Kaldi’s is the place to experience coffee in New Orleans. All the coffee is roasted on site and they sell the finest quality coffees from the world’s markets. You can choose your favorite by the pound, or experiment with the Daily Brew.
You can drink refill after refill and if you’re there in the evening still, you can usually catch the local talent playing for tips and the sheer pleasure of groovin’ high with kindred coffee house spirits. There are many moods to the place, from late night hushed laughs, raucous foot stomping blues jams, philosophical meanderings and flirtatious cafe love affairs, and your purpose in life is complete if you can experience them all.
Author’s note: If anyone remembers our days at Kaldis or your picture is here, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org