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Roaster Alfred Peet influenced the way the world drinks coffee

Initially supplied Starbucks

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

ASHLAND, Oregon - Alfred H. Peet, a Dutch-born coffee merchant who changed the way Americans experience a cup of coffee, recently passed away at his home at age 87. Mr. Peet, described in the beverage industry as the “grandfather of specialty coffee,” started his business in 1966, with a single retail coffee bean outlet in Berkeley, California, that blossomed into a public company that carries his name, with 150 stores in 10 U.S. states.

Alkmaar-born Peet is credited with mentoring and inspiring a generation of coffee entrepreneurs, including the founders of Starbucks who acknowledge they are indebted to the Dutch-American who was raised in his parents’ coffee roasting business.

Author Corby Kummer, senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly, who wrote the book ”The Joy of Coffee,” calls Peet the guru of everyone in the gourmet coffee revolution. Alfred Peet ”was the big bang. It all started with him.” He was known as a purist rooted in the European tradition and taught people in the restaurant industry a new way to look at food, wine and coffee, paying attention to the preparation and understanding how the beans and ingredients were grown.

At a young age he learned the coffee trade while cleaning machinery and running errands at his father’s small coffee roastery. As a teenager, he was an apprentice at Lipton’s Tea in London. He later traveled to Indonesia and worked as a tea taster, before immigrating to San Francisco in 1955.


In the 1950s, North America had an international reputation as serving coffee that tasted like dishwater. Jim Reynolds, a buyer and roaster at Peet’s since 1984 but now a roastmaster emeritus, recalls Peet being very frustrated about the quality of the coffee that was served everywhere. No one was buying good-quality coffee in the states. Peet looked at that as something of a crime, according to Peet’s former roastmaster. Many believe it was Mr. Peet’s encyclopedic knowledge of coffees and teas that led to his company’s success.

Mr. Peet is credit with almost single-handedly helping the American consumer appreciate the dark roast blend.


Starbucks owes much of its success to Mr. Peet, who trained its founders and supplied its coffee when it first opened in 1971. Starbucks co-founder Jerry Baldwin says that Peet generously shared with us how to cup, to roast and to blend, and instilled his uncompromising standards. We will “always be in his debt.”

The original Peet’s, still thriving in Berkeley near the University of California, was the first of four area retail shops. He sold the business in the late 1970s but it still carries his name. Peet’s is modest in size, even after it went public in 2001. It currently has over 150 outlets.

Coffee experts agree that the Dutch American will be remembered for introducing North America to high-quality dark roast coffee blends while teaching them to appreciate varietals from every corner of the world.