It seems like you can’t walk two blocks in Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods without passing a coffee roaster shop. In our Carroll Gardens area, D’Amico’s is the original, dating from long, long before anyone ever heard of Starbuck’s. Now we also have East One, a few blocks down Court Street, and there are so many others dotting the landscape throughout Brooklyn. Java Joe in Park Slope is a long-time fixture in that neighborhood, and all over the Borough, there’s Brooklyn Roasting Company, Uptown Roasters, BKG, Anchor Coffee, Cocoa Grinder, Supercrown, Sey Coffee, Kings Coffee Roasters, and on and on.
Most of us think of Brooklyn coffee roasters as a new millennial phenomenon, but in fact, at the turn of the last century, New York Harbor was the entry point for almost ninety percent of the coffee entering the country, and about two thirds of that was off-loaded onto the Brooklyn waterfront. Coffee beans filled the Empire Stores, a block-long warehouse on Water Street in DUMBO that has recently reopened as an office/retail/eating complex. The Arbuckle Coffee Company, which began operations in 1871, became the first to roast, bag, and ship nationwide from the company’s factory on John Street at the foot of Adams Street, right at the river’s edge. This allowed the Arbuckle factory to receive and process boatloads of coffee from all over Central and South America. Brothers John and Charlie Arbuckle invented a production machine that did the roasting and grinding, and funneled the grinds into one-pound packages, then sealed and labeled the bags all in one operation. The bags were shipped via railroad and truck across the country. For a time, the Arbuckle factory was the most prolific coffee roaster and distributor in the world, and John Arbuckle was known as the coffee king. The company’s Arbuckle Ariosa was the first branded packaged coffee in the United States, and became known as “the coffee that won the west.”
John Arbuckle died in 1912. The Arbuckle coffee factory remained in operation in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge through the 1930s. The company was sold to General Foods in 1937.
So, the next time you stop into or simply pass a neighborhood coffee roaster, know that these new millennium companies are following a long tradition of making great coffee in Brooklyn.