Sitting on my desk is a cup of coffee. It’s Peet’s coffee in a mug with an image of Gauguin’s painting “The Swineherd, Brittany”. The pastoral image shines brightly, warmly. I wanted the image to reflect my personality when I bought it back in 1993. Or at least, how my personality shined after the first pot of coffee. Most coffee I drink these days is decaf, but back in 1993 I drank about two pots of Peet’s coffee every day. After two pots of Peet’s, anyone would feel bright and cheery.
My first experience with coffee took place in high school. I used to hang out with other students at the Nation’s Hamburger next Ygnacio Valley High School. Every morning, I took the 111 bus to Pleasant Hill BART and then transferred to the 115. The 115 dumped us off a few blocks from school, so we often wondered through the shopping mall wasting time. “You’re drinking coffee?” I said to Jeanine Kot. “Sure, it’s good with sugar and cream. Let me show you.” So Jeanine made me my first cup of coffee. Coffee hooked me instantly. At the end of the year, I wrote in her yearbook, “I’ll miss waking up to your face first thing in the morning.” Ha, ha, ha, ha. Referring to the coffee, of course. Her mother didn’t think it was funny.
Long before T.G.I. Friday’s offered bottomless cups of caffeinated sugar water, restaurants offered bottomless cups of bitter, greasy coffee. When I went to Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, I used to get breakfast or lunch down the street at Lou’s Chefburger. And so long as I sat at that counter, the waitresses would bring me coffee. “Another cup darlin’?” I thought it was a fabulous deal with no clue as to just how wired I had become.
When I went to UC Berkeley, I frequently bought coffee at Istanbul Express–which used to be at the Sather Gate Mall between Channing and Durant near Telegraph Avenue. They sold fresh roasted coffee, weighed it out for you, and put it in a bag. What a novel idea. I had never heard of coffee coming in anything but a can. There was no such thing as Starbucks in Berkeley and I hadn’t heard of Peet’s. At $4.75 a pound the coffee seemed to cost a fortune. On my extremely modest budget, I found a way to cough up the money regularly. I had become addicted to the intense flavor of freshly brewed coffee.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, I moved to the north side. One day, I wondered into the original Peet’s at Walnut Square and ordered a cup of coffee. No, actually, I had ordered a slice of heaven. I discovered true religion. I found a wonderfully warm, carmelly sweet cup of coffee. I found Peet’s–the perfect cup of coffee.
Interestingly enough, if it weren’t for Alfred Peet, there would be no Starbucks coffee or at least it’s unlikely that it would have become a global lifestyle company. I mean coffee company. Does Starbucks still sell coffee? The first Peet’s opened in North Berkeley in 1966–five years before the first Starbucks opened in 1971 at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. When Starbucks first opened, the coffee was roasted by Peet’s. Let me repeat that. Starbucks coffee was roasted by Peet’s. Emphasis on was. Starbucks signature coffee owes what remains of its quality to Alfred Peet and his passion for the perfect cup of coffee. You can learn more about the history of Starbucks and Peet’s at the San Francisco Chronicle.
My bright cheery cup of Peet’s coffee has sat on many desks. While I lived in the Philippines and worked at Union Church of Manila the cup sat on my desk. I filled it with Peet’s coffee thanks to shipments sent from my then girlfriend, Jill Moriarty. It sat my desk when I worked with kids from the Trenton Youth Connection in Trenton, New Jersey. It sat on my desk while I helped college students get scholarships when I worked in Princeton, New Jersey. Now it sits on my desk now as I help clients recover from computer disasters.
Much of my life has been a journey. Not many of the paths on my journey have ended in enlightenment. That long journey from high school into Peet’s coffee after college did end in enlightenment. What I discovered more than anything, is that one man’s passion, Alfred Peet’s passion for coffee, can change the world. Alfred Peet (1920 – 2007). Good-bye and thank you.