Monday, September 03, 2007

Gourmet coffee guru Alfred Peet dead at 87

Sat Sep 1, 2007 3:36PM EDT

By Dana Ford

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Coffee legend Alfred Peet, creator of Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc., a forerunner to Starbucks Corp., has died at his home in Ashland, Oregon, his company said. He was 87.

Peet, known as the grandfather of the specialty coffee movement in the United States, taught the tricks of the trade to the founders of Starbucks and sold them their first year's supply. He passed away on Wednesday.

"He had this great love of coffee," said Jim Reynolds, roast master emeritus of Peet's Coffee & Tea, who worked with Peet in his early years.

"He was so helpful to many people in the business. When Starbucks was getting going, the founders of the company really needed help. He let them work in his store and taught them about coffee," said Reynolds on Saturday.

Peet was born in Holland, the son of a coffee and tea merchant. He learned the trade in Amsterdam, London, Indonesia and New Zealand before moving to the United States in 1955. Peet opened his first shop in 1966 in a rundown neighborhood in Berkeley, California that was later dubbed the "Gourmet Ghetto."

The store flourished and Peet soon opened additional shops in the San Francisco Bay area. Peet sold his business in 1979 but stayed on as a coffee buyer until 1983, and as a consultant after that.

"Up to the time he started, the quality of coffee in the U.S. was really poor," said Reynolds. "But he developed a market for those types of coffee."

The gourmet coffee trend in the United States started on the West Coast and moved east. Peet was known for using high-quality beans and a roasting method that produces a distinctively deep flavor. His company, which went public in 2001, continues to use his techniques today.

Although a company spokesperson declined comment on the cause of death, Reynolds said Peet died of cancer.

He is survived by a daughter, two grandchildren and a sister.

Peet's Coffee & Tea is a specialty coffee roaster and marketer. It operates 151 stores, about 90 percent of which are in northern California.