Obit: Alfred Peet, coffee entrepreneur

Alfred Peet in the late 1960s, in his original coffee shop in BerkeleyLast Wednesday, Alfred Peet passed away at age 87. (New York Times obituary; San Francisco Chronicle obituary)

Peet was the founder of Peet’s Coffee, my preferred brand of java. As a master roaster in the San Francisco Bay area, he also influenced the founders of Starbuck’s and changed the way America drinks coffee.

From the SF Chronicle:

He immigrated to San Francisco in 1955 and took a job with coffee
importer E.A. Johnson & Co. He favored high-altitude coffee from Costa Rica, Guatemala and East Africa that his father used to buy, and although there was no market for it in the area, he decided to create one.

“He went to a great deal of trouble to find only the best beans,” said David. “He knew his business like nobody I ever met.”

Importantly, David added, Peet introduced customers to coffee they didn’t know existed.

“We would drink it and it put us in a new realm. It had complexity and richness – that’s the best way to describe it,” said David.

Along the way, Peet influenced younger roasters like James Freeman, owner of Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland. “He really opened the door for the specialty-coffee industry,” said Freeman, who said Peet made a radical departure from the roasting style of the day, with smaller batches, darker roasts and higher-quality coffee.

“He really showed that people in America are willing to spend a little bit more money to get a little bit better when it comes to coffee,” said Freeman.

I had known that there was a relationship between the early days of Starbuck’s and Peet’s, but this is the first time I’ve read the full story and the story of Alfred Peet.

I feel bad that the coffee I’m drinking right now was made with Starbuck’s beans. Of course lately I’ve been enjoying the Peet’s from Giant Eagle, but I ran out and was at Target, so…. I’ll pick up some more Peet’s today.

Oh! My parents have recently started drinking Peet’s now — again, because it’s at Giant Eagle. My dad apparently prefers it to Starbucks. He has always had a preference for strong coffee. Another convert.

(Photo copied from the NYT obit, property of Peet’s Coffee & Tea)

6 replies on “Obit: Alfred Peet, coffee entrepreneur”

  1. Finally picked up a bag of Peet’s at the grocery last night (because I finally remembered to look for it). And you were right on about how good it is.

    Now — have any suggestions about bourbons I might not know about? Because I’ll listen…

  2. Uncle Crappy: My preferred bourbon is Woodford Reserve. It’s slightly sweet and very smooth. Makes a damn fine Manhattan or Old Fashioned.

    Some people consider WR too sweet — for them I recommend either Knob Creek or Booker’s (except Booker’s is rather expensive, best when someone has given you a bottle as a gift). Or if Woodford Reserve isn’t sweet enough for you, try Maker’s Mark.

    (Keep in mind that none of these is actually sweet in the sense of sugary. They just seem sweet on the tongue.)

    All the same, for mixed drinks I’m quite happy with Wild Turkey’s 80 proof variety. Plays nicely with gingerale or plain soda, works just dandy in a Manhattan. And it’s less expensive than the Woodford Reserve.

    You probably know about all those bourbons though, yes? If so, may I suggest that you consider a rye for a change of pace. It’s hard to find many varieties of rye here in PA, but they tend to be spicier than bourbons and make interesting variations on Manhattans in particular.

  3. Thanks the affirmation. I was turned on to WR by a bartender at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville (I was totally intimidated by the 80-bottle bourbon display and asked for help!) a few years ago. Can’t decide if that or Knob Creek is my favorite.

    I’ve always been curious about rye whiskey, but I’ve never really had the chance to taste any. Suggestions? We make frequent trips into Ohio during football season, so I’d be willing to hunt for something we can’t normally find here.

    I’d also be willing to bring back some extra, if there’s one you’ve been looking for…

  4. I’m only just getting acquainted with rye. I bought a bottle of Sazerac and didn’t care for it so much. Too sharp for me. I like Old Overholt, but that’s in wide distribution so no need for a special trip.

    If you discover anything of particular interest, I would love to hear it!

  5. Hey Cindy, terrific post. I realize more all the time how much morning, then afternoon coffee are ritualized experiences for me. I will actually put off a rushed first cup in the morning so that the first one (once the kids are at school and I’m in my kitchen or cafe)is as peaceful and ceremonial as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll drink a cup in chaos, but it’s never as good.

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