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R. I. P. Alfred Peet

"I came to the richest country in the world, so why are they drinking the lousiest coffee?"

Alfred Peet, founder of Peet's Coffee & Tea, died Wednesday at 87.

Peet's: Alfred H. Peet, 1920-2007 (with comments and pictures),

When Alfred Peet opened his shop in Berkeley in April, 1966 he started a coffee revolution. Nobody had ever seen top-quality coffee like this roasted in this unique style in America.
Washington Post, Alfred Peet; Put Buzz In Gourmet Coffee,
Alfred Peet, 87, a Dutch tea trader who started the gourmet coffee craze in the United States with his rich, darkly roasted, high-altitude beans and taught the trade to the founders of Starbucks and sold them their first year's supply, died Aug. 29 at his home in Ashland, Ore.

His company, Peet's Coffee & Tea, from which he retired in 1983, announced his death. The cause was not reported.

... Coffee aficionados swear by Peet's, asserting that it is superior to mass-merchandised products. In 1971, when the three founders of Starbucks decided to open a gourmet coffee store in Seattle's Pike Place Market, they sought Mr. Peet. He insisted that they go to his store to learn about coffee before he would sell them a single bean...

... Peet's is bean-sized compared to Starbucks, but it has played a significant role in the development of the U.S. coffee culture.

San Francisco Chronicle: Coffee pioneer Alfred Peet dies,
With his emphasis on specialty coffees and unique brewing techniques, Peet, the son of a Dutch roaster, put specialty coffee on the map - and in the process influenced the founders of Starbucks.

"Up until the time he started, in 1966, basic American coffee was swill," said Jim Reynolds, roastmaster emeritus at Peet's. "His father had been a small coffee roaster in Holland before World War II, he was aware of good quality coffee, but nobody in the States was buying it," Reynolds said. "He realized Berkeley was a place where good food and good quality coffee would work."

... "I like to think that he taught America how to drink dark-roasted coffee," said Narsai David, the food and wine editor of KCBS in San Francisco, who, when he opened his Narsai's Restaurant on Colusa Circle in 1972, was Peet's first commercial account.

... In 1971, the first Starbucks store opened in Seattle's Pike Place Market, with coffee roasted by Peet's. The company's co-founders, Jerry Baldwin and Gordon Bowker, learned about roasting from Peet.

Peet sold his business in 1979 but stayed on as a coffee buyer until 1983. In 1984, Starbucks co-owner Baldwin and Reynolds, the roastmaster, with a group of investors bought Peet's four Bay Area locations. In 1987, Baldwin and Peet's owners sold the Starbucks chain to focus on Peet's, and Baldwin and Howard Schultz, Starbucks' new owner, entered into a no-compete agreement in the Bay Area. In 2001, Peet's became a public company.

Alfred Peet was born in Alkmaar, Holland, on March 10, 1920. He helped his father by cleaning his coffee-roasting machinery and doing other odd jobs. When Germany invaded the Netherlands, he was pressed into working for the Third Reich in Frankfurt. When the war ended, Peet joined Lipton, the tea company, and for a time worked in the tea business in the then-Dutch colony of Indonesia.

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.

Seattle Times, Coffee master Alfred Peet, 87, inspired Starbucks,

"What made Peet's so strong was that Alfred Peet had so much knowledge about coffee and tea," Jerry Baldwin, one of the founders of Starbucks who is on Peet's board of directors, said Friday. Baldwin said Mr. Peet was an inspiration for Starbucks.

Mr. Peet learned the coffee business by helping his father in the family's small coffee roastery in his hometown of Alkmaar, Holland. After World War II ended he moved to London, where he joined Lipton's Tea and apprenticed in the tea business. From there he worked in the tea business in Indonesia in the early 1950s when it was Dutch colony. He moved to San Francisco in 1955.

"I came to the richest country in the world, so why are they drinking the lousiest coffee?" Mr. Peet asked himself, soon after he arrived in California.

... His first few years in San Francisco, Mr. Peet worked in the coffee import business before he set out on his own in 1966. Using high-quality beans and a manually controlled roasting system, he produced coffee that was nothing like what he had tasted in local diners and coffee shops.

"By word of mouth, time and again people came from whatever country and said, 'At long last. That's how coffee used to be back home,' " Mr. Peet recalled in 2003.

Very quickly, his first store, at the corner of Vine and Walnut streets near the University of California, Berkeley, campus, became the West Coast's caffeine Mecca.

... Mr. Peet, who was born March 10, 1920, was pressed into service for the Third Reich in Germany during World War II and witnessed the Allied bombings there in 1944.

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"I came to the richest country in the world, so why are they drinking the lousiest coffee?" Alfred Peet, founder of Peet's Coffee & Tea, died Wednesday at 87. I have posted a roundup of stories at Smelling the Coffee.... [Read More]

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