September 1, 2007

Good Bye Mr. Peet
Alfred Peet

Alfred Peet, the Granddaddy of Great Coffee

Alfred Peet, the founder of Peet’s Coffee & Tea (and the granddaddy of American specialty coffee) has died. I’m not one to usually wax poetic obit-style but Mr. Peet deserves it. His coffee is the best I have ever tasted: rich and strong, without that acid aftertaste I get from Starbucks. Whenever I go to the Bay Area I head for Peet’s. And, in fact, I’d always buy two pounds to take back home with me, that is until a recent conversation I had with a fellow DC local and Peet’s lover.

When I told her of my perennial West Coast bean purchase she laughed: “I buy Peet’s at the Safeway right here in Georgetown.” “GET OUT!” I replied, hearing myself replicate Seinfeld’s Elaine. “Well, I doubt it’s at my local [and in a less stellar part of town] Safeway.” But, sure enough, the next time I was there I took a look and the coffee aisle was stocked with Peet’s.

But it’s not the same. Oh, the coffee is as good as it is in SF. But being able to find it locally somehow dilutes the experience. The pilgrimage to a Peet’s store to buy my two pounds (or even the local grocery store in Noe Valley near where I stay when in town) had been an important part of any trip to the area. It marked that I was in a different land in this homogenized United States of America. Scarcity built anticipation. It enriched the taste and pleasure of that first sip. And knowing, when I got home, that eventually I would run out of these beans made every cup just that much better.

My local Noe Valley friends, Bob and Ellen, will tell you Martha’s Coffee is the best. I just don’t buy it.

So long Mr. Peet. I’ve enjoyed your brew.

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Your Noe friends are right about Martha’s, but I put them second to Peet’s. I think San Francisco coffee breaks down like this:

1. Peet’s
2. Martha’s
3. Caffe Trieste
4. Tully’s
5. Any other local brewer
6. Generic coffee from national grocery chains
7. Starbucks

Local water also has a lot to do with taste. i detest starbucks, but find it almost drinkable in only one place: honolulu.

Posted by: tracy on September 1, 2007 3:14 PM

Thanks. I drink Peet’s every day, and will now observe a moment of silence.

Posted by: Media Concepts on September 1, 2007 3:35 PM

Tracy, you’d put generic coffee ahead of Starbucks?! Have you ever had deep, dark, and rich Yuban?

Posted by: Jeff on September 1, 2007 5:30 PM

I was a true blue Peet’s kind of gal. So true that when I moved to Boston in 1999, my store manager from Larkspur in Marin came East and opened six stores in the Boston Area. Imagine, just for me.

I now live on Whidbey Island and the closest to Peet’s is Mukilteo Coffee. Gary Smith decided not to compete with Peet’s. Instead, besides distributing throughout the Pacific Northwest, he ships to China and Singapore, I think.

Imagine being the Peets of China: Pacific Coffee of China and offering the perfect cup of coffee to all those tea drinkers.

I must remember to try Martha’s when I go to Noe Valley next. But moving on to China for coffee, now there is a thought. I don’t have turn my nose at Starbucks and can get a real cup of coffee.

Posted by: Lavinia Weissman on September 6, 2007 9:02 PM

Comments are now closed for this post. But there are a few other entries which might provoke an opinion or two.

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