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RIP: Alfred Peet Dies at 87


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Peet, known as the grandfather of the specialty coffee movement in the United States, taught the tricks of the trade to the founders of Starbucks and sold them their first year's supply. He passed away on Wednesday.

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Peet was born in Holland, the son of a coffee and tea merchant. He learned the trade in Amsterdam, London, Indonesia and New Zealand before moving to the United States in 1955. Peet opened his first shop in 1966 in a rundown neighborhood in Berkeley, California that was later dubbed the "Gourmet Ghetto."

The store flourished and Peet soon opened additional shops in the San Francisco Bay area. Peet sold his business in 1979 but stayed on as a coffee buyer until 1983, and as a consultant after that.

"Up to the time he started, the quality of coffee in the U.S. was really poor," said Reynolds. "But he developed a market for those types of coffee."

The gourmet coffee trend in the United States started on the West Coast and moved east. Peet was known for using high-quality beans and a roasting method that produces a distinctively deep flavor. His company, which went public in 2001, continues to use his techniques today.

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Peet's Coffee & Tea is a specialty coffee roaster and marketer. It operates 151 stores, about 90 percent of which are in northern California.

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"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Before I even moved to San Francisco, I'd heard of Peet's Coffee. Friends of mine always brought some back with them whenever they visited the Bay Area (and then treated it like gold; I felt privileged to get some). Years later, I went for an interview at the headquarters of Peet's, and the interviewer brought me an individual press pot of whatever they were roasting right then. I didn't get the job, but it was the best coffee I ever had at an interview.

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Although their retail shops can be inconsistent on espresso drink quality (mostly due to having so many, I think) they have very good coffee and Mr. Peet has had a profound influence on the specialty coffee industry in North America as it exists today.

Peet's provides the positive proof that you can have dark roasted coffee that doesn't taste burnt. I wish that other even bigger chain would get a clue about that :wink:

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Peet's was the first coffee I ever mail ordered, after having tasted some that a friend had brought back from San Francisco. It was a revelation to me that coffee could taste that good, and that special. And hell yes about the not tasting burnt part. It's delicious stuff and I sought it out when I visited Northern Cali for the first time a few years ago.

Mr. Peet was a revolutionary. Those other guys got nothin' on him. A hard working immigrant that really knew the business from the ground up is what it took to teach those upstart Americans how to do it right. Amazing that he's finally getting credit where credit is due. I'm not surprised it took an obituary to shine the light where it always belonged.

R.I.P. Mr. Peet. I presume you'll be manning the coffee bar in the great beyond...

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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