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Gimme Coffee!

Dec 13, 2010 10:15 AM | 7 comments

Listed in the 1900 Trow Business Directory for Brooklyn and Queens between Coal Miners & Shippers and Coffin Dealers (which listing precedes the now-connotatively-complicated Coke Dealers) you'll find listings for the cleaners, polishers, purveyors, importers, and roasters of coffee. At this time in Brooklyn there were 6 Coffee Cleaners and Polishers; 2 dealers in or makers of Essence of Coffee; 7 Coffee Importers; 9 Coffee Roasters; and 1 dealer in Coffee Pots, Tea Pots & Urns. Not yet listed among these caffeinated capitalists was the name of Edward Dannemiller, a Canton, Ohio native who first arrived in Brooklyn in 1900. Perhaps sensing an opening in this area's coffee trade Dannemiller, already an established coffee merchant, decided to set up a plant of his own at the bustling Bush Terminal.

However, though this company would eventually become one of the world's largest packers of private label coffee and tea, we have very few materials concerning the Dannemiller Coffee Company in our collection -- no trade pamphlets with close-ups of bean-types, no business cards depicting a cherub sharing a sip with a stevedore, no letterheads of fancy type, and hardly an Eagle article regarding the Dannemillers and their trade. Our collection is decidely decaf. And yet, out of this coffeelessness we were able to dredge up one folder of photos taken on the occasion of the company's 75th anniversary (but go figure -- these photos appear from 1953 and Edward supposedly started the company in 1900 -- I guess the Eagle and the Dannemillers were including the Canton years in their operational tally). In any event, these photos, covering everything from procuring the beans to shipping them out to market, give a small glimpse into a once giant Brooklyn business.

Before you could have a perfect cup of coffee you needed to find the perfect coffee bean -- and finding that bean meant tasting a variety of coffees. Here, Edward I. Dannemiller, vice-president of the company and son of the original founder, Edward Dannemiller, gets a good eye-popping spoonful. The man seated to his left, Robert B. Sasseen awaits his turn while the other man, Chester Chapman, peers out from beneath the Eagle photo editor's red grease-pencil 'X.' Sad to say but Chester wasn't just denied a spoon at this taster's round table, he was also cut from the photo that eventually ran in the pages of the Eagle. I suppose Chester's bean just wasn't rich enough.

After the slurping had ceased and the bean had been selected, the processing could begin. Here we see Leo Blessing dumping a sack of South and Central American beans into an air suction elevator which was designed to pull out any "extra materials" from among the beans.

Following the first stage of cleaning, the beans headed off to the roaster where foreman Henry Blessing (Leo's pop?) was charged with the duty of inspecting each batch as they came out of the 400 degree ovens. It was reported in the Eagle that Blessing could "tell at a glance" if the beans had been roasted to perfection.

With roasting done, it was time for another inspection. Here we have Thomas Kehoe of 406 9th St. doing his best to level a bed of freshly roasted beans as they made their way from the oven chutes to the grinding machines. Before meeting their final ground-up fate however, these beans would travel through a magnetic separator removing any "foreign materials" that had managed to slip through the initial refinement process.

After the cleaning, roasting, and grinding it was time for the coffee to be packaged. This was done in two ways: either bagged, as Helen Oleszek and Josephine Massicotte were busy doing here; or canned -- the final vacuum-sealed products of which process we can see Susan Wheat boxing up for shipment in the photo below.

After all that, the coffee was thrown on a dolly and wheeled out of the plant (in this case, by one Bill Shivers of 700 Sackett St.) where, after being roasted, ground up, magnetized, and vacuum-packed, it suffered the last leg of its journey to the innumerable cups of America and Canada: a long, lonely, dark voyage in a truck.


And if the final product proved to be as good and strong as that cup sampled by Edward I. Dannemiller, morning coffee drinkers would likely have had no problem waking up in the morning. However, they may have faced bigger problems, like trying to close their crazy, coffee-charged eyes.




12/21/2010 2:52:29 PM #

Seems like Brooklynology has been spammed by the Hermes Co. and some shoe dealers. I wonder if there are any coffee roasting businesses in Brooklyn today?  The smell of roasting coffee beans is one type of air pollution I would not mind.

Doug Wooley

12/21/2010 3:30:43 PM #

When I lived on Carroll St between 4th and 5th Avenues about 20 years ago the smell of roasting coffee wafted across the neighborhood quite often. I never did figure out who the roasters were.  Maybe some Brooklynology reader knows?


1/7/2011 6:15:47 PM #

Nice write up on Dannemiller Coffee. Edward I was my grandfather. The coffe plant moved to Paterson NJ in the late 50's.

mark e dannemiller

3/11/2011 2:51:14 AM #

See more @ Dannemiller Clan @

Julia Dannemiller

3/30/2011 7:54:19 AM #

Hey Ben, great post on the history of a Brooklyn Coffee Legend. As a coffee roaster I am always impressed at the depth of our industry and the true pioneers of our business. I am a small roaster in Colorado and thanks for a walk down memory lane.

Andy Berard

8/6/2011 5:49:54 PM #

Just browsing the net concerning coffee roasters in Brooklyn and there I see my Grandfather, Henry Blessing, working away. Yes, he was Leo's father and the father of my dad, Gerald Henry Blessing

Wayne Blessing

10/5/2012 11:49:04 PM #

as a youngster i climbed around on the coffee sacks in brooklyn, in my late teens and early twenties i worked in the patterson NJ plant   (United Instant Coffee or INSCO )for Uncle R.J. Dannemiller and my dad Thomas Edward Dannemiller.I also traveled to Nicaragua where the Baltodano family grew a lot of the coffee we roasted ,spray dried and packed..........

Richard James Dannmiller II