Corby Kummer — author of The Joy of Coffee — offers a tribute to the late, great Alfred Peet this week. While most folks who’ve written about Mr. Peet have focused on the Peet’s / Starbucks relationship and the West Coast roast style, Corby groks that Al’s work and influence reached far beyond the roaster. (I think so, too.)
Peet brought a new kind of connoisseurship to a place that was ready to embrace it: the radicalized community of Berkeley, where rejecting stale, conformist coffee could be viewed on a continuum with rejecting stale, conformist war policies. Alice Waters may be rightly credited with launching the American food revolution, and with it the buy-local movement, from her restaurant Chez Panisse, which opened in 1971 around the corner from the original Peet’s. But Waters herself credits Peet with making her and her customers take a hard look at who grew and made what they were eating and drinking — including wine.
Corby takes a wobbling turn in suggesting that the art of a lighter-roasted coffee is lost — which is a silly thought, and completely unfounded — but I appreciate his sentiment in the end…
That one man’s preferences could shape international taste is extraordinary. Peet’s legacy persists in the hundreds of personalized drinks people order from Starbucks baristas every second everywhere in the known world, and on the blogs like sweetmarias.com that unite coffee fanatics in many countries. Anyone who considers his or her own taste in coffee to be the only right taste is making Alfred Peet, somewhere, smile.