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Coffee Museum Celebrates History of Bean

December 16, 1989|From Times Wire Services

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Museums may not be everyone's cup of tea, but here is one that is almost sure to provide a stimulating experience.

It is the John Conti Coffee Museum, where objets d'art make way for household items, and there's no musty odor--rather there is the aroma of roasting java and perking joe.

Dan Jones, museum director, thinks it is the only one of its kind in the country.

"We've announced it since we opened, and no one's rebutted us," he says.

In fact, when it was opened two years ago, it was believed to be the only one in the world. Since then, Jones says, Brazil, Canada and Japan have opened coffee exhibits.

The museum in a coffee-colored building is an arm of the John Conti Coffee Factory, Louisville's only roaster of fine beans.

John Conti, the company's founder and owner, has been collecting coffee memorabilia for more than 20 years.

"Once we got to a certain point, we had stuff in closets and hiding behind doors," he says. "We decided to open a museum with it."

The collection consists of about 1,200 pieces, 1,000 on display. There are old ads, all manner of pots, hand-turned coffee grinders and even coffee playing cards.

Jars, bags and tins dating from the late 1800s advertise some old friends: Maxwell House, Hills Bros., Folgers. For other brands--Old Reliable, Sears & Roebuck Special Combination, Del Monte and Havacup of Louisville--the containers and the memories are all that's left.

Visitors are treated to a video that discloses some little-known facts about coffee:

* People who picture Juan Valdez plucking beans in the mountains of Colombia are right on the money. Most coffee is still picked by hand.

* Each coffee tree, which takes between three and five years to reach maturity, yields only 3,500 coffee "cherries" per year--enough for one pound of coffee.

* The darker the coffee, the lower the caffeine content.

Two windows in the museum look into the Conti factory where two employees can roast, grind and package up to 1,350 pounds of coffee an hour. Mark Nethery, vice president of operations, says the company distributes about 2 million pounds a year regionally.

Not only is museum admission free, the coffee's on the house. Guests can sample French Roast, Irish Cream or coffees flavored with amaretto, vanilla or chocolate--with or without caffeine.

"We picture the museum and the roasting facility to be much the same as the Anheuser-Busch factory in St. Louis," he says. "We want to get people to come in and see it."

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