Coffee was stored along Furman Street. Brooklyn Historical Society collection.

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Where Coffee Was King

In the early 1900s, it’s likely that more coffee was roasted at the Arbuckle Brothers coffee factory on John Street than in any other building in the world.

Building a Coffee Empire

John Arbuckle (1839-1912), known as “the Coffee King,” pioneered# how coffee was made and sold by roasting and grinding coffee beans onsite, packaging the coffee in one-pound bags, and selling it across the country. Arbuckle’s Brooklyn complex opened in 1871. The waterfront site allowed vessels carrying coffee beans from Brazil to dock alongside the plant. Workers roasted, prepared, and packaged the coffee for shipment by rail to four hundred Arbuckle distributing depots across the country.

By 1906, Arbuckle was roasting about 25 million pounds of coffee every month. He became a multimillionaire by producing “Ariosa,” the first national brand of packaged coffee.

The Coffee Capital

Though he was the biggest, Arbuckle was not the only coffee importer# along the Brooklyn waterfront. By the 1890s, New York harbor imported 86% of the nation’s total coffee supply. By 1907, two-thirds of New York’s coffee landed at piers between Montague Street and Water Street in what is now Brooklyn Bridge Park. Burlap sacks of beans from Brazil, Venezuela, and Guatemala filled warehouses along Furman Street behind the piers.

Coffee Moves Out

Although John Arbuckle died in 1912, his company, Arbuckle Brothers, continued to roast and store coffee here until the 1930s, when they sold the site to General Foods. General Foods eventually shut down the operation and moved roasting to other plants outside of New York City.

A Coffee Revival

Today, Brooklyn is in the midst of a coffee renaissance, with numerous roasting companies echoing the days when the Arbuckle factory was considered “an industrial city by itself.” Unlike Arbuckle Brothers, most of Brooklyn’s most celebrated coffee roasters are smaller businesses that celebrate their local, artisanal roots.