Peet’s Coffee: Keeping the ’60s Coffeehouse Dream Alive

When people get nostalgic about the coffeehouses that dotted the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 60s and early 70s, chances are good that Peet’s Coffee occupies some portion of the vision.

The Original Peet's Coffee

The Original Peet’s Coffee – Berkeley, California

That’s because in 1966, Alfred Peet opened one of the most iconic coffee shops still around, the aptly named Peet’s Coffee, Tea & Spices. Having recently arrived from the Netherlands, the 35-year-old Peet chose his spot wisely—right around the corner from the coffee-loving folks at UC Berkeley.

It wasn’t just location that counted, though. Peet had actually grown up in the coffee-making business in the Netherlands, so he started off with the clear advantage of having proven his mettle in the more time-honored European coffee houses. Soon after opening, business took off. Scholars, artists, beat poets, you name ’em, they were hanging around Peet’s. In fact, when Starbucks first opened in Seattle in 1971, the founders did so under the tutelage of Mr. Peet himself. Starbucks even bought all its green beans from Peet’s through its first year in business.

Peet’s business thrived in the 70s, too, expanding to four additional locations across the Bay Area. Mr. Peet left the business side of things in 1979, but stayed on as a mentor. In 1984, the Starbucks founders themselves bought Peet’s, and a few years later, they sold Starbucks so they could focus more fully on their new acquisition.

Since then, Peet’s reputation has grown far beyond its hometown. Though the majority of its cafes are still in California, close to 200 stores have since popped up, including ones in states as far flung as Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Colorado, and Massachusetts. And that’s not counting its smaller outposts in airports and public transit stations.

Today, Peet’s Coffee is known for its innovation on the American coffee scene—specifically for being one of the first US brands to sell Arabica coffee, to use longer roasting times and to produce darker, more bitter flavors. It’s certainly helped pave the way for other gourmet coffee makers in the country.

Peet’s fans can still visit the original location at 2124 Vine Street, where a small museum of java-related memorabilia can also entice—as if a good old-fashioned cup of hot, quality coffee isn’t enticement enough.

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