Alfred Peet, a Dutch immigrant who grew a coffee empire in California starting with his first tiny shop, "Peet's Coffee & Tea," in Berkeley...
Alfred Peet, a Dutch immigrant who grew a coffee empire in California starting with his first tiny shop, “Peet’s Coffee & Tea,” in Berkeley, has died. He was 87.
He died Wednesday at his home in Ashland, Ore., the company announced, without specifying the cause.
“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.
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“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.
It didn’t take long for him to understand the problem. During World War II many people had to settle for coffee made with inferior quality beans, Mr. Peet explained in a 2003 interview with the Medford (Ore.) Mail Tribune. Coffee drinkers never raised their expectations.
“The same thing happened in Europe after the war,” Mr. Peet said. “A lot of taste was lost and had to be brought back for a new generation not brought up on the stuff before the war.”
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.
He continued to introduce new coffees and blends to customers, all with his signature deep-roasted flavor. As business grew he opened three more stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the original remained a landmark.
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.
His reputation was well in place in 1971, when he was approached by a group of entrepreneurs who asked him to provide his roasted coffee beans for their new venture, Starbucks, in Seattle.
“Peet supplied us with roasted coffee, and he taught me how to roast coffee,” Baldwin said. “He was very generous.”
Mr. Peet sold his business in 1979 but remained involved as the coffee buyer until 1983.
Mr. Peet never fully retired. He continued to consult with coffee companies until recently.
His survivors include a sister, a daughter and two grandchildren.
Los Angeles Times reporter Jerry Hirsch contributed to this report.