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The United States of Coffee: Lessons in Roasting and Geography

Welcome to Out of The Archives and Into the Streets, the Archive on Parade Blog.

I'll be posting here to offer you a look into the research process, and highlight some cool stuff I find in archives around town.

John Arbuckle

Today's post honors John Arbuckle, the Coffee King of Brooklyn, and some of his ingenious advertising (circa 1889) that I found in the Map Division at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Branch of the New York Public Library.

New Yorkers have loved coffee since at least 1668, when the first written reference to coffee appeared in America. Turns out a drink made of roasted beans, and flavored with sugar, or honey and cinnamon, was the new beverage on the block in 17th century New York.

After the Civil War, New York became the coffee capital of the country, and at the turn of the 20th Century, 676,000,000 pounds of coffee, or 86% of the total consumed in the United States, docked in New York Harbor. Coffee importers were known as coffee men, and different varieties of the bean were known as chops.

Coffee men sorting Chops

There were many coffee men in New York, but none had Arbuckle's chops. In his 1922 book, All About Coffee, William Ukers called Arbuckle "the honored dean of the American trade, pioneer package-coffee man, sometime coffee king, sugar merchant, philanthropist and typical American."

Arbuckles' Coffee Warehouse, Jay Street

If by typical American, you mean that he imported more than double

the beans of the next largest New York importer; that his Jay Street roasting facility on the Brooklyn Waterfront employed people from fields as diverse as blacksmithing and engineering; and that the roasting plant was home to 200 draft horses as well as fleets of trains, boats and barges, then yes, say hello to John Arbuckle, Typical American.

Arosia Package Coffee

Before Arbuckle, Americans bought their coffee green and roasted it themselves over an open flame. Arbuckle thought he could deliver a better product if he roasted and packaged coffee for sale. He introduced his Arosia brand coffee in 1 pound bags in 1873, and soon Arosia would account for between 1/5 and 1/4 of all coffee sold in the United States.