The Original Peet's Coffee & Tea, Berkeley, California

Alexandra Brown

Today, Peet’s Coffee may be one of the most well known coffee brands in the world, but its humble beginnings can be traced back to a quiet street corner in Berkeley, California. This original shop is just a couple of blocks away from UC Berkeley’s campus and is also within walking distance of many residential areas of downtown Berkeley. It has become a staple in this neighborhood, as well as in the entire coffee world.

Peet’s Coffee in 1969

This original Peet’s Coffee was opened on April 1st, 1966 by Mr. Alfred Peet, a Dutchman who moved to America after World War II. When he came to this country, he was shocked by the low-level coffee that US citizens consumed, and he decided that the only way he would be able to drink good coffee is if he made it himself. This European-style coffee, which Peet introduced to the Bay Area and eventually the US, was something that Americans had never tasted before. The superior, fresh beans were made in small batches and dark roasted to create a complex, smooth, and rich coffee.
Peet’s approach to coffee was an instant success in Berkeley, and this small corner shop soon became a hub for coffee aficionados to gather in the ‘60s, leading to their nickname, the ‘Peetniks.’ Other artisan food crafters were drawn to this part of the Bay Area and opened up their own shops nearby, eventually creating Berkeley’s ‘Gourmet Ghetto’ that is so widely known today. Alfred Peet’s artisan coffee movement kept gaining motion and created a new generation of coffee entrepreneurs, which included the Starbucks coffee chain founders.

The Original Peet’s Coffee & Tea Shop

Jst five years after Peet’s was launched, Jerry Baldwin founded Starbucks in 1971, alongside three others who knew Alfred Peet personally. In its first year of business, the now world-famous coffee enterprise bought their beans directly from Peet’s. In 1979, Alfred Peet sold his business to Sal Bonavita, while he stayed on as a consultant until 1984. Alfred Peet had such a great influence on the young minds of the coffee business that in the early 1990s, two British men who had worked at Peet’s parted ways and founded Union Coffee Roasters back in the U.K. In an attempt to keep up with the growing world market, Peet’s Coffee went public in January of 2001 and had a very successful IPO.

The original Peet’s Coffee & Tea location still stands open for business on a quaint Berkeley street corner, and it’s always full of coffee connoisseurs enjoying high-quality coffee at this historic site. Coffee lovers of all ages flock to this little corner shop; inside, you’ll find locals who have been coming here for decades, reading the newspaper and sipping on a fresh brewed coffee, some studying UC Berkeley students, laptops plugged in, eyes glued to the screen, and a few kids who are just looking for a sweet treat to sink their teeth into.
The back room of this original Peet’s establishment has been converted into a little museum for locals and visitors to learn more about the history of this impressive company. It features framed newspaper clippings about Peet’s success, old pictures of Alfred Peet himself, and a vintage coffee grinder that was once actually used by the store. There are even pages of Alfred Peet’s old business logs, which truly add to the authenticity and nostalgia of this historic little museum in Berkeley, California.

Artifacts at the Peet’s Museum

Although Peet’s Coffee had a very simple vision and modest beginnings, it has become one of the most successful and innovative coffee companies the world has ever seen. In 2007, Peet’s opened a LEED® Gold certified coffee roasting plant in Berkeley’s neighboring town of Alameda, the first of its kind in the entire nation. Peet’s strives to create direct, long-term relationships with its coffee bean suppliers and has a philanthropic mission to educate its coffee farmers on how to improve the quality of their coffee. In addition to these initiatives, Peet’s supports and donates to organizations that improve the lives of people who live in coffee-farming regions of the world.

A Peet’s Coffee and Scone

For those coffee-lovers who are in the East Bay area of San Francisco, checking out this original Peet’s coffee location is definitely worth the while. Lines can get very long in the mornings as everyone is rushing to get their coffee, but during the mid-day, it is a great spot to relax and enjoy the memorabilia and history associated with this little coffee shop on a quaint Berkeley street corner.

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