Articles From Whole Latte Love

A Coffee Comeback: The Port of New Orleans

Posted: 03/22/06

New OrleansSix months after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast, the Port of New Orleans is once again fully operational. Warehouses along the New Orleans riverfront are brimming with coffee as longshoreman have been working diligently - hauling coffee from cargo ships ashore.

For generations, the Port of New Orleans has been a hub for American coffee traders. Last year, more than 505 million pounds of coffee was exchanged in the Crescent City, making it the nation’s second largest coffee port. The Port of New Orleans had held the top-spot until 2003, when it lost its title to the Port of New York.

"We’ve always been neck and neck with New York," according to Chris Bonura, a spokesman for the Port of New Orleans. "But now we’re operating under different circumstances," he said referring to the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused last year.

Bonura said as a whole, the Port of New Orleans lost about a third of its facilities after Katrina, but the 14 warehouses that stored coffee beans remained relatively undisturbed. And the silocaf, a processing plant located on port property and used by many coffee traders and roasters was operational within a month of Katrina.

The silocaf Bonura is referring to was a grain silo that was about to be torn down some ten years ago. It was reconfigured by the Port of New Orleans to break down coffee beans coming ashore and is now used to sort out any stems and stones found in the bulk beans. "It’s a real value added service we provide here," said Bonura. "Our goal is to really improve the way coffee is processed."

The Port of New Orleans is not only in the spotlight these days because of its phenomenal post-Katrina recovery, but also because of a possible takeover of several terminals within the port by DP World, a United Arab Emirates owned cargo-handling company.

Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans said allowing an Arab company to manage these terminals is "a decision to be made by the federal government." And although it’s fairly routine to have an international company manage a high-volume terminal, it’s a decision that should cause some concern.

Incidentally, one of the terminals in question happens to be the first terminal that was up and running after Hurricane Katrina. It currently handles about 20 percent of all cargo entering the Port of New Orleans and is now operated by P&O, a company based out of London, England. That terminal received the first shipment of coffee in September - a mere two weeks after Katrina, from a container ship called the Lykesflyer, Bonura said.

"You know each and every week we’re progressing," he said. "We’ve met all of our goals and benchmarks that we had set to get the port back up and running."

For a while that meant everyone who worked at the Port of New Orleans stayed aboard one of five ships sent in by the Department of Transportation. "We stayed on the ships so we could service the port, so that in-turn the ships could service the riverfront," he said. "It’s been a really phenomenal experience, we really bounced back."

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