My grandmother, like many Swiss, made Milchkaffee (strong, milky coffee) for every breakfast and dinner. She’d fill two ceramic jugs, one with steamed milk and the other with her special coffee blend (a mixture of coffee and chicory, sometimes sweetened, sometimes not), which would be drunk from little bowls called Chacheli. Due to the strength of the coffee, about half of the cup would be filled with milk.
As coffee was traditionally an expensive product, most people could not afford to drink it pure. Many kinds of cheaper plants and grains were roasted and added to coffee—or during very lean times they replaced coffee entirely.
One of these plants was chicory, which has been produced as a coffee substitute in Switzerland since at least the early 1800s. After the Second World War, it became easier to get coffee, but many producers still added chicory for its subtle flavour and rich black colour. Many Swiss, including my grandmother and mother-in-law, recognise it as an integral part of their morning brew.
To make your own Milchkaffee, use a mix of ground coffee and chicory—or you can buy pre-mixed chicory coffee in most Swiss supermarkets.
My mother-in-law, Josy, gave me these tips: keep the water just under the boiling point to prevent the coffee from getting bitter, the milk should also not boil, and once you’re done with the coffee grounds, add them to your garden—they make excellent fertilizer.