New Orleans: Gateway to the Americas

Coffee, 1965

"It has been said that the best barometer of the destiny of the Port of New Orleans is coffee," wrote T.J. Conroy in the New Orleans Port Record, in 1943. Coffee is one of New Orleans' earliest profitable imports, and in the first quarter of the twentieth century, coffee imports at New Orleans, the great majority arriving from Brazil, were second only to those of New York. From 1920, the Poydras Wharf was designated the "coffee wharf," constructed by the "Dock Board" for the preferential use of coffee importers; today, the Riverwalk Marketplace sits atop the Poydras Wharf, but the modern Port of New Orleans boasts fourteen warehouses with 5.5 million square feet of storage space for coffee.

This photograph shows green coffee being unloaded, probably at the Poydras Wharf, in 1965--the beginning of an elaborate process of discharging, transferring, and assorting coffee at the port. Here, the coffee is taken off the ship in specially designed slings each holding 13 bags. The bags were trucked to a nearby warehouse where they were "assorted" according to their marks. The caption on the back of the photo says, "Coffee beans unloaded in the Port of New Orleans account for one out of every four cups of coffee consumed in the United States."

[Louisiana Photograph Collection. Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans Series]

The romantic history of coffee and the equally romantic history of the Port of New Orleans are indissolubly linked. Coffee is one of the oldest and principal commodities that come to this Port and continues as an integral part of the port's commerce, despite the exigencies of wartime shipping. Poydras wharf, long designated coffee wharf of New Orleans, continues to receive the 132-lb bags of coffee in huge quantities.

New Orleans imports two types of coffee, mild and Brazilian. Mild coffee, of a milder blend that the Brazilian blend, comes from Central America and the north coast of South America.

Of the approximately two billion pounds of coffee imported annually by the United States, about 25% in normal times comes through New Orleans. About 40% of the coffee at New Orleans is taken by local roasters in this area.

Some figures will indicate the size of coffee business in the Port's commerce. In 1941 a total of 4,030,276 bags of coffee, both Mild and Brazilian, were imported through New Orleans. The past few months have seen a spurt in the coffee imports, sending the total number of bags imported for June up to 571,471. Multiply this figure by 182, the number of pounds of coffee each bag holds, and you will get a good idea how many cups of coffee come over the wharves of New Orleans.

["Coffee." New Orleans Port Record, September 1942]

Introduction | Aguardiente de caña, 1770 | Imports, 1822 | Price-Current, 1845 | Minatitlan, 1852 | Steamships, 1854
Cotton Exposition, 1884 | The Logical Point, 1885 | El Nopal, 1885 | Bananas, ca. 1919 | Mercurio, 1913
Cuyamel Fruit, 1917 | La Voz Latina, 1936 | Del Sud, 1938 | deLesseps S. Morrison, 1946
International House, 1950 | Garden of the Americas, 1957 | International Trade Mart, 1964
Coffee, 1965 | Victor H. Schiro, 1965