Blue Penguin Coffee’s History Corner – Arbuckles Coffee History

Sep 21, 2017 @ 10:44 pm

Hey, this is Tom again, the Chief Penguin of all Penguins at Blue Penguin Coffee. I want to personally welcome you to Blue Penguin Coffee’s inaugural History Corner blog post! If you haven’t guessed it by reading that short sentence, this series of blog posts will be specifically about all things coffee history! And for this episode, Arbuckles Coffee History.


blue penguin coffee's history corner


History and coffee nerds rejoice!


The plan is to publish, on a monthly basis, a fun and easily digestible story related to the history of coffee and how we got to where we are now.


Because if you think about it. I mean really think about it, we didn’t just end up with pre-packaged coffee or cappuccinos or Unicorn Frappuccinos out of nowhere.


Like anything else in history, it was a process, an evolution, an experiment which led us to where we are now.


Most importantly though, I want to keep this fun. History can obviously be a drag.


However, at the same time, it is intriguing, thought-provoking, and inspiring.


Not to mention, it can also serve great life lessons for whatever point you are at in your life.


The Story of Simply Splendid Innovation – Arbuckles Coffee History. Ariosa. The People’s Coffee.


Arbuckles coffee - arbuckles coffee history - blue penguin coffee
Source: Arbuckle’s Coffee


Ever hear of Arbuckle’s Coffee?


Yeah, didn’t think so. Well, some of you might have.


At any point in your life while you were sipping on a hot latte or a sweet cold brew did you ever take a second to think about how your coffee was packaged?


Most likely it came freshly roasted in a vacuum sealed bag with a degassing valve. It hasn’t always been like this, though.


Arbuckles Coffee History is one filled with innovation, cutthroat business practices, and a passionate desire to dominate the United States coffee industry.


The story is about a quartet of entrepreneurs.


Two brothers, John and Charles Arbuckle, their uncle Duncan McDonald, and a friend, William Roseburg.


Let’s jump into our Blue Penguin time machine and go way back, back to the 1860’s – 1870’s.


Abraham Lincoln was just selected as the U.S presidential candidate for the Republican Party.


The civil war had begun and ended, and the wild state of Alaska was purchased from Russia.


It was 1860 in Pittsburg, PA and sensing an opportunity, this group of friends got together to form a wholesale grocery business, McDonald & Arbuckle.


Being a grocery business, its primary products, of course, was food.


John Arbuckle had other thoughts, though.


Like all great entrepreneurs in history, once he entered the market, he sensed, like a Jedi, other market opportunities for the taking.


He decided to hone in on the coffee industry, to specialize in it and wow, was he right.


By the way, he was only 21 years old at the time this all started!


Business was business, but fast forward to 1864 and things began to change for John Arbuckle and the gang.


John Arbuckle - arbuckles coffee history - blue penguin coffee
Source: Pittsburg Magazine. Picture of John Arbuckle


In 1864, Jabez Burns invents the self-emptying coffee roaster in New York.


Sensing an opportunity on the horizon, John Arbuckle buys one for his Pittsburg plant.


As they say, the rest is history and he literally wrote Arbuckles Coffee History into the history books.


You know what John Arbuckle’s amazing innovative idea was?


It was to sell pre-roasted coffee in one pound bags with a simple innovative idea of glazing the roasted beans with sugar to seal in the freshness.


Yep, simple.


However, at that time in history, people in the industry laughed wildly at his idea!


No one thought people would buy coffee packaged like this!


Ariosa coffee - arbuckles coffee history - blue penguin coffee


Remember, in the 1860s, people were still buying green coffee beans from their local dry goods store. Then roasting them on a skillet at home.


Guess what?


Everyone in the industry was wrong and Arbuckle’s Ariosa Coffee was an overnight success.


Long story short, by 1880, Arbuckle’s Ariosa Coffee had expanded into Kansas City, Chicago, and was the coffee of choice for cowboys in the American West.


By that time, John Arbuckle had also begun to vertically integrate by producing his own packaging.


He even went as far as establishing green bean exporting offices in Brazil and Mexico to decrease production costs.


Eventually, Arbuckle’s coffee successes also lead to its demise.


They lost most, if not all, of its market share to competitors offering a cheaper alternative, which was far more attractive when the Great Depression hit.


That’s a story for another History Corner though, and it doesn’t take away from the historic significance of John Arbuckle, his innovative drive, and Arbuckles Coffee History.


Amazing story, huh?


And not just an amazing story either, an amazing life lesson for where ever you are in your life.


If you want to become a great entrepreneur, or a great teacher, or a great barista, or a great employee, or a great whatever, sometimes all it takes is a simple idea mixed with a little bit of luck and a huge heaping full of persistence.


I’m guessing if we had the chance to talk to John Arbuckle for this article, he would admit that he wasn’t the smartest person in the world.


Of course, John Arbuckle was smart, but what really allowed him to succeed was the courage to think differently, to go against the grain and to believe in his idea.


Isn’t it crazy how great entrepreneurs always seem to be able to predict the future, to predict what people will want before they even knew they wanted it?


Just take Apple as an example.


Did you really think you needed a portable mp3 player before the first iPod came out?




Take Tesla as an example.


Did you really think you needed an electric car before the Tesla Roadster came out?


Then when it came out, you needed one. It was cool.


Same story with John Arbuckle and Ariosa Coffee or even us, Blue Penguin Coffee.


Without him, we might not have pre-roasted, pre-packaged coffee.


Think about what that would be like. Dang!


p.s. if you want some more information on the entire Arbuckles Coffee History, check out the coffee history book Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast, which is the source of this story!

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