Peet's Coffee & Tea, 2156 Chestnut Street, San Francisco
The Peet's in the Marina district is loooong. You can't quite see the back from the front door. The wall on the right immediately catches my eye. It is chock full of stuff. No, stuff isn't fair. It is an amazing array of neatly displayed, colorful coffee accessories. Mugs. Cups and saucers. Tea kettles. Coffee makers. Fancier coffee makers. Jams and jellies and gourmet cookies. Oh, yea, coffee, too.
The place smells great. It's a coffeehouse in a minimalist sort of way. It's more of a coffee store. A young woman comes over to me and says "can I help you?" She must wonder why I'm touching everything. "Oh, I'm just looking," I say nonchalantly. Okay, I'm gawking. Everything looks so nice. The display shelves are a dark brown wood, which allows the colors of the various coffee cups to stand out in contrast. I make my way back to the front of the store, where I had noticed a glass display case. It's locked. Inside the case is a collection of coffee memorabilia. The crown jewels of coffee. Tiny old coffee makers, delicately crafted of copper and brass. Some old coffee tins -- Folgers, MJB Coffee, Golden West Coffee. Unusual coffee grinders. One of the grinders says "Eskilstuna Stalindustri" on it. I ask the young woman what it means. She doesn't know. "They put these things in here but they never told me what they were." I remark on the sheer volume of items in the store. "Well, we're a retail store first and a coffee bar second," she tells me. "People come to us to buy coffee." Coffee and coffee accessories.
There is no shortage of coffee beans at Peet's. The beans are squished into a plexiglas case which is built into the long wood counter. There are more beans in the plexiglas cases behind the counter. Some beans have exotic names. Sulawesi-Kalossie. Java Pantjin. And then, of course, there is Major Dickason's blend, which I know has achieved cult status among many serious coffee drinkers. I approach a gal behind the counter and ask "who is Major Dickason?" "Mmm, good question," she responds. "Let me go find out." She returns in a flash with a full report. "Major Dickason was a customer at the Vine Street store. He was a colonel, though. He asked us to create a blend for him, and it was really good, so Peet just changed it around a bit and started selling it." My curiosity is piqued. "Do you create a blend for anyone?" I ask. "Would you create one for me?" "Sure -- we have a blend box," she tells me. She pulls out a small brown box from a drawer under the cash register. In it are 3 x 5 cards filed A to Z. The customer's name is on top and his blend specifications are carefully noted for half-pound and full-pound purchases. Personalized shopping at its best.
A small case sits on the back counter. In the case are an assortment of brownies, cookies and muffins. I order a double latte and ponder the limited food selection. "Is this all the food you have?" I inquire. There are several employees near the espresso machines, and the one nearest me answers "we have smart muffins, too." "Smart as in healthy?" I ask. "Yeah," she tells me, "they have fruit and other good stuff." She looks toward the end of the counter, then says "oops, we're out. But we have ragamuffins, too." She looks around for ragamuffins and can't find any of those, either. Thank goodness. I settle on a buttery scone. I get a crash course in Peetspeak while I wait for my latte. The waitstaff keeps calling out "D-A-L!" This means nothing to me until my eyes wander over to a small, colorful sign near the cash register. It explains the different types of drinks available at Peet's. A "doppio" is a double shot of espresso. "Alto" means it's in a tall (16 oz.) cup. A doppio alto latte must be a D-A-L. I retrieve my D-A-L and find that it is A-OK.
The "coffee bar" is definitely a secondary objective at Peet's. The seating is limited to ten stools clustered around a triangular counter at the front of the cafe. There is a large window here which lets in good southern light. Peet's has two colors -- dark and light. The lower half of the place is dark, the upper half is light. There aren't a lot of people at the coffee bar. Most people come in, buy beans and dash out. One fellow buys his beans and takes a seat at the bar. He starts talking to me straightaway. We talk about Peet's and why we're here. He tells me he drives clear across town to buy his beans at this store. I ask him what kind of work he does and learn that he's a scientist. He studies gas. Methane gas. "Like in cows?" I ask. "Exactly!" he tells me. He proceeds to give me a detailed explanation of how, and why, cows belch. My new friend delivers a five-minute monologue on the subject with a straight face. Somehow, I manage to keep a straight face as well.
I find a small stack of books on the counter at the coffee bar. They're all on the subject of coffee and tea. One is about Peet's. "Peet's Coffee and Tea -- A History in Honor of its Twenty-Fifth Birthday." The birthday was in 1991. I breeze through the book and learn everything about Al Peet, the original Berkeley store and Peetniks. Is a Peetnik a coffee beatnik? In any case, Mr. Peet is the coffee guru of the bay area. The folks who started Starbucks got the idea from him. I hope they thanked him.
An employee walks around the store for the third time and straightens everything. Even the newspapers. Peet's is picture-perfect. I bet Mr. Peet folds his underwear.