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The Old Coffee and Roasting District

By Jessica Mazzola

The history of coffee’s import and sale in New York has been tied to South Street Seaport since the Dutch founding of New York in the 1600’s. While coffee was gaining popularity in the Dutch colony, it was replaced by tea with the English take over in 1664. However, it made a triumphant return to the Port of New York at South Street Seaport near the end of the 17th Century. As the port grew increasingly significant, coffee, namely from Columbia, began once again coming into New York. The popularity of coffee was fueled by the introduction of coffee houses which were used for public meetings as well as beverage consumption. Coffee houses became infinitely more prominent in the years preceding the American Revolution, as they housed meetings of disgruntled colonists. All of this made the import of coffee a major business in New York. Most of the major coffee importers were located in South Street Seaport, where they congregated on Front Street between Wall Street and Peck Slip.

The coffee and roasting district at South Street Seaport created a community atmosphere of workers akin to the one formed by the fishmongers in the Fulton Fish Market when it was located in South Street Seaport. Coffee import and business continued to be prominent in the area into the 20th Century. While many of the buildings that served the coffee district were destroyed in the first half of the century, a few coffee merchants remained in the area. When South Street stopped being used as a port with the advent of containerization in the 1960’s, Columbian coffee was imported to Brooklyn. The few merchants that remained at the time got this coffee via the Fulton Ferry or across the Brooklyn Bridge. While most of the coffee business has disappeared from South Street Seaport in the years since the restoration of the area, it was one of the major businesses that made South Street such an important commercial center throughout its history.

Work Referenced

Information and visuals courtesy of the article “Coffee in New York: Some Selected Reminiscences” by Bruce D. Stutz. The article originally appeared in the Spring 1985 issue of Seaport: The Magazine of the South Street Seaport Museum.
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