There was a time, not very long ago, when gourmet coffee was essentially not available in the United States. At the present time, one can buy a cup of gourmet coffee at many locations, and virtually anywhere in the United States. The most visible gourmet coffee provider is, of course, Starbucks. But many other outlets now sell gourmet coffees, or at least coffees that approach the gourmet label. Who was the individual who started the gourmet coffee revolution? It was a Dutch American by the name of Alfred Peet. And where did it begin? It began in Berkeley, California, in 1966, when Alfred Peet opened his first gourmet coffee and coffee bean shop.
Alfred Peet is widely credited with being the pioneer in the American coffee revolution. Peet was born in Alkmaar, the Netherlands, in 1920. His father owned and operated a coffee wholesale and coffee bean grindery, and during his younger years, Peet would help in the family’s coffee roasting, grinding and coffee bean buying business. So he was trained to be a coffee bean roasting and grinding expert at an early age. At the age of 18, in 1938, he moved to London to work for a coffee and tea company, probably to gain more experience in both the coffee and tea business. It is not clear where Peet was during World War II. If he was in England at that time, he probably ended up in participating in the war effort. We do know that at a later time, probably following the war, Peet lived in New Zealand and Indonesia, again involved in the coffee and tea business.
In 1955, Peet immigrated to the United States and settled in San Francisco. He again went to work for a coffee and tea importer, and probably tried to convince his employer to focus on gourmet coffees, a market that then essentially did not exist. In 1966, he decided to go into business himself, but at the retail level. He opened a coffee bean and coffee shop on Vine Street, in a rundown neighborhood of Berkeley, near the University of California campus. He probably chose Berkeley, because of its progressive stance in everything from politics to food, and possibly gourmet coffee. Up to that time, the quality of coffee had been mediocre in the United States. Taste for gourmet coffee was non-existent, or at least had not been developed yet. Peet’s coffee shop did well, and quickly other gourmet food places opened up in the area where his shop was located. Because of the success of his Berkeley gourmet coffee shop, Peet was able to later open three other coffee shops in Menlo Park, Oakland and another shop in Berkeley.
Prior to opening its first coffee outlet, in 1971, Starbucks sent several of its people to learn about the coffee business from Peet. One of the Starbuck’s people even worked in Peet’s Berkeley outlet to learn the ins and outs of the gourmet coffee business, including the critical roasting and blending aspects of the coffee business. It is generally acknowledged that Starbuck’s owes much of its initial success to what it was able to learn from Peet.
With four stores in operation, Peet’s four-store operation became a business known as Peet’s Coffee and Tea, located in Oakland, California. In 1979, Peet sold the business but stayed on as coffee buyer until 1983, and as a consultant thereafter. Peet’s Coffee and Tea Company was incorporated in 2001, and it currently operates 152 stores in 10 states.
After his retirement from the coffee business, Peet apparently moved to Ashland, Oregon, probably to live closer to his daughter and two grandchildren. Alfred Peet passed away on August 29, 2007, in his home in Ashland, Oregon. He died from cancer. Besides his daughter and two grandchildren, Peet is also survived by a sister, living in the Netherlands.
Alfred H. Peet, 87, Dies; Leader of a Coffee Revolution,http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/03/us/03peet.html?ex=1346472
Alfred Peet, 87, Gourmet Coffee Pioneer, His push for quality helped usher in age of Starbucks,h
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