2016 Sunset Report

OLG & DCRT Strategic Plan
2020-21 through 2024-25


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J. Aron and Company: The Role of the Coffee Importer

Section 1
The Port of New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century
Section 2
Improvements and Consolidation:
The Founding of the Dock Board
Section 3
The Banana Trade
Section 4
J. Aron and Company:
The Role of the Coffee Importer
Section 5
New Orleans and Coffee

From the end of the nineteenth century until about 1970, dozens of coffee importers operated in the New Orleans area. These firms served hundreds of small coffee roasters around the country at a time when communication with coffee-producing countries and distant customers was unreliable and often very slow. Today, fewer companies roast their own coffee, and a relatively small number of very large companies dominate the coffee-roasting business.

At the heart of the New Orleans coffee trade were the many importers that lined Magazine Street. Their business was bringing in the raw green coffee beans to sell to roasters around the country. One of the most influential firms was J. Aron and Company. From 1898 to 1977, it imported coffee that subsequently made its way to vendors around the world.

Jacob Aron learned the commodities business from his uncle, a Chicago meatpacking agent. In 1898 he formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, Leon Israel, to import coffee into New Orleans. The partnership quickly dissolved, but J. Aron and Company lived on. Success came early to Aron when a 1905 yellow-fever epidemic hit New Orleans, making it very difficult for ships to land their commodities. Aron was able to turn the shortage of coffee into high profits as the price increased dramatically. In 1905 Aron made his friend and employee William B. Burkenroad a partner in the business and later left him in charge as he moved his family up to New York. As a commodities broker, Aron wanted to be closer to the New York exchanges where he could keep a closer eye on different markets. Burkenroad's son, William B. Burkenroad Jr., came on to take control of the company in the 1930s. He worked for the company for sixty years, eventually taking them out of the coffee business in 1978. The company still operates today trading commodities, but its coffee importing days in New Orleans are long gone.

The American Coffee Company was founded in 1890 at 423 South Peters Street Its first product was French Market Coffee. Over the years American's brands have included St. Charles, Honeymoon, French Opera, Tulane, Pointer, French Market, Dixieland, Loyola, and Monteleone. After acquiring the New Orleans Coffee Company in 1934 and Merchants Coffee in 1950, the company ensured its place in stores around the region. The company still roasts such popular brands as Union and French Market Coffee at 800 Magazine Street and provides commercial grades for local restaurants and businesses under the label Alameda.

J. Aron and Company Workers
Gift of J. Aron and Company

Roasting Department, Reily-Taylor Coffee Company
Gift of the Association of Commerce

Section Packing Department, Luzianne Coffee
Gift of the Association of Commerce

American Coffee Company Exterior
Gift of the Association of Commerce

Weighing Department, American Coffee Company
Gift of the New Orleans Association of Commerce

Packing Department, Southern Coffee Mills
Gift of the Association of Commerce
Throughout the coffee district, individual roasters maintained their entire operations in-house. At the Southern Coffee Mills, where CDM and Gold Medal coffee were roasted, women carefully packed each bag and can for shipment. This firm was later acquired by Reily-Taylor.

Testing Department
Merchants Coffee Company
Gift of the Association of Commerce
Merchant's Coffee Company brands included Clipper, Alameda, Purity, Victory, NOLA, and Union. Several of these brands are still produced today.

Stock Ticker Machine
Thomas A. Edison Company
c. 1900
Gift of J. Aron and Company
One of the problems that the New Orleans industry faced in the early part of this century was communication. The coffee commodity markets, which set the price for green beans, were located in New York. New Orleans importers relied on the stock ticker, which transmitted prices already half an hour old, a source of great frustration when a few minutes' difference could have a significant financial impact. Some importers relied on the public ticker at the nearby Western Union office, while others purchased their own ticker.

Office, A. C. Israel
Gift of the New Orleans Association of Commerce
Workers in the offices of importer A. C. Israel kept a close eye on coffee prices as they came in over the wire.

Sample Roaster
Jabez and Burns
Gift of J. Aron and Company
Coffee samples were brought from the docks to importers' offices, where the beans would be roasted in small batches. Sample roasters like this one are still used today by coffee importers in New Orleans and elsewhere.

Once the beans were roasted, they were brought to the cupping room, where experts would determine the quality and consistency of a given crop of coffee.

photograph of Coffee Experts Cupping coffee, 1960 Experts Cupping Coffee
J. Aron and Company
c. 1960
Gift of J. Aron and Company
The cupping process involved pouring hot water over freshly roasted and ground coffee. Testers skimmed the surface of the coffee to push aside floating grounds, taking a full spoon to analyze aroma and color. He or she then tried the coffee with a quick sip to shock the tastebuds and give an accurate reading of quality. The first impression is what counted the most as the tester held the coffee in his or her mouth before expelling it.

Listen to an Audio Recording of Coffee Tasting