Caffeinating the Port of New Orleans

One hundred years ago today, 35,000 bags of coffee destined for Havana and New Orleans made its’ way from Rio de Janeiro stored aboard a Lloyd Brasileiro steamship vessel named Campos to create coffee transport history.

The steam merchant type ship, capable of moving cargo up to 4,663 tons, was completed in 1895 in Blohm and Voss, Hamburg, Germany. A Mr. Charles S. Dittmann, coffee importer and Consul General of Brazil at the time, accessed this German vessel, seized by Brazil upon entering the war of WWI, to handily export the coffee. Dittmann exported the bags of green coffee as a trial run from the Rio de Janeiro port on December 11, 1919, with the intent that the shipment would successfully and expeditiously arrive at the New Orleans port on the 20th of December.

His hopes lay in the inauguration of a regular service and the establishment of the Port of New Orleans as the premier coffee import destination in the U.S. And that he did. In large part due to his efforts and vision, by 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.  By the 1920s, the Poydras Wharf was being referred to as the “coffee wharf,” supported by a consortium of entrepreneurial investors known as the Dock Board for the specific use of those importing coffee. Today, the former Poydras Wharf has been replaced by the modern retail space of the Riverwalk Marketplace.

Charles S. Dittman, who for nearly fifty years was renowned as one of the leading coffee commission merchants of the country, entered the coffee business with Napier & Co., representing E. Johnston & Co., of Rio de Janeiro. In 1875, upon the death of Mr. Napier, the firm changed to Johnston, Gordon & Co., later to G.O. Gordon, and in 1886 to the Charles Dittmann Co. Since his death in 1920, the business was continued by F.V. Allain and Charles Dittmann, Jr. For his efforts and vision, Charles S Dittman remains one of the best remembered names in the green coffee trade of New Orleans.

Today, the Port of New Orleans is the largest importer of coffee in the Nation. In order to accommodate our growing coffee import market, the present- day Port of New Orleans consists of fourteen warehouses and over 5 million square feet of space for coffee storage. Not only does New Orleans supply the nation with coffee, the city is also credited with supplying it with an all-American tradition. We may never know if the coffee break was actually invented here in New Orleans, but workers all over North America enjoy, without question, their sacred morning coffee ritual to its fullest.

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