IT IS SAID that coffee is the universal friend of the cold, the creative, the captured and the conscripted, of cops and late-night carousers alike. But sometimes coffee can become a dear thing, embargoed and expensive and imported, and those who need it can barely scrape together a handful of beans. For those people, in those moments, there is chicory.
Chicory (also, chickory), a lettuce-like plant related to the dandelion and to curly endive (also, confusingly, sometimes called “chicory”), produces a humble, blue, forgettable flower and a root that tastes enough like coffee that it can be dried; roasted; and added to, or substituted for, coffee, when the need arises. First cultivated in ancient Egypt as an herb and a vegetable, chicory has been walking in lock step with coffee since the 18th century in Europe, humbly filling in like an understudy when coffee, that precious-yet-ubiquitous princess of commodities, is scarce or too expensive.