Embassies, Outposts, and Peet's Coffee

Recently, the founder of Peet’s Coffee and Tea, the Holland-born Alfred Peet, died. Thankfully, he didn’t take his love for great coffee with him. Mr. Peet, since launching his first coffee store in Berkeley, California in 1966, was the impetus behind much of America’s gourmet coffee craze. Though it’s not widely known, Peet’s Coffee was instrumental in advising those who went on to pioneer the ubiquitous Starbuck’s (see http://peets.typepad.com/ for more of Peet’s interesting history!).

By all accounts, Alfred Peet was a stickler for detail. An artisan roaster with very high standards, he created a culture of excellence and a signature flavor (captured so well in his classic blend, Major Dickason’s). Mr. Peet introduced America to a rare coffee experience that was hard to reproduce in large quantities. For that reason, for the longest time, Peet’s coffee was only available in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area. Freshness was a passion of Mr. Peet (just as it remains so for current company leaders). Distribute the coffee too widely and the quality control suffers—the coffee grows stale on the shelf or in the bin. Or, worse yet, exercise no control over how the coffee is made and the brew suffers—too weak or too bitter. With faster delivery options, a culture of fanatical quality control, and ruthless standardization, Peet’s has been able to extend its quality coffees around the country. Now Peet’s Coffee can be drunk from the store in Harvard Square in Boston; in Chicago, in San Diego, and in many points between.

When we moved to the Denver-Boulder area five years ago, one of our greatest adjustments was not having a local Peet’s to frequent. True, we could visit the Cherry Creek store (the only Peet’s in Colorado at the time), but it was out of the way. Indeed, visiting the store was a rare and special treat. When we entered the familiar surroundings, the pungent aroma of deeply roasted, fresh ground coffee gloriously assaulted our senses, and we felt we’d come home. The smells, the signage, the furnishings, the mugs, the coffee paraphernalia, all were the same as we remembered them; we were transported back to our beloved Bay Area. The Cherry Creek Peet’s made us homesick, but it was also strangely comforting.

Now, thankfully, Peet’s has come to Boulder’s new 29th Street Mall and with it, a little piece of the Bay Area. Meeting a friend at Peet’s in Boulder feels much like hosting them in our living room in California. I get to share something special from my native state with my Colorado friend. In some strange way, I've realized, Peet’s Coffee and Tea functions almost like an embassy or an outpost of culture and quality.

Which gets me to thinking…Did you know that American embassies the world over are required to stock only American products? That’s right: even the toilet paper in our foreign embassies is made in America! The foreign ground that our embassies sit upon, be it in Baghdad or Berlin, is considered U.S. soil; when Americans abroad walk into an embassy, in a way, they’ve come home. Naturally, expatriate Americans cannot live in the U.S. embassy. It’s simply a place for them to touch base with home, have certain needs met, and be better equipped to live in their host culture. The embassy is a metaphor for the Church, of course. Whether in Berkeley or Boulder, the Church is an outpost of Jesus’ kingdom, a little place of home in the midst of a foreign culture. Christians enter the walls of their sanctuaries to worship, to find fellowship with other citizens of God’s kingdom, to learn how better to live as exiles in their host lands. But Christians, like expatriate Americans with their embassies, cannot live in their churches. They’re meant to go out and represent their home culture faithfully as ambassadors, periodically returning to the embassy for encouragement and support.

As much as I like Peet’s Coffee, I don’t think I’d always want to drink it in the store. What I do instead is buy a pound of coffee in the store each week and drink it at home or share it with a friend. Even better, I love bringing a Boulder friend to Peet’s for the first time. Sharing my love for this fine experience gives me a new connection with them—and who knows, they might even become a Peetnik like me! I think you get the point. Embassies, outposts, resident aliens living abroad as citizens of God’s kingdom, who knew so much could be found in a good cup of coffee? Thank you, Alfred Peet!


John said...

"What I do instead is buy a pound of coffee weekly in the store and then drink it at home or share it with a friend."

make that arabian mocha java, thanks.

Carl Hofmann said...

Ah, good John, the point is, as my fellow Peetnik, to share the experience with a non-Peet's drinker! Nice try, bud.

mbpbooks said...

Rob and I just used your gift card to him in Harvard Square on Sunday night. My favorite place to write.