Founder’s Day

Peet’s Headquarters, originally uploaded by sosostris.

Peet’s Coffee & Tea gave a founder’s day tour today. The tour was self-guided and the actual factory tour would have been better with a bit more direction. After viewing a timeline and a short video about the history of Peet’s we were let loose to roam the factory and it wasn’t immediately obvious where to proceed.

There was nothing in place to give insight into the coffee roasting process. There were a few roasters operating, and the operators would happily answer questions, but there was only one operator per roaster and a lot of consumers shuffling by at random intervals with varying degrees of interest. It seemed like it would have been more beneficial if there had been someone explaining how the machine worked, or what was happening at the time, rather than just letting the public gather around the roaster and ogle as the fragrant beans were swirled off into a pneumatic tube.

The next series of machines were more straightforward than the roaster. It was an assembly line that took the freshly roasted beans from a hopper and sorted them into bags, folding them and taping them closed. The finished product was ready to be boxed up and shipped out.

After seeing the magic of mechanized bagging (never again will I fret that I can never seem to close the coffee bag quite as well as when it was first opened) we got a glimpse of the cupping room. There the Peet’s staff hovered about a diminutive roaster and roasted small quantities of beans and then sampled them to determine whether to purchase the stock of beans. They actually had someone at that station whose only purpose for the day was to answer questions, so it seemed more tour-like and less like choose your own adventure.

Once done peering through the window we stood in line to play cuppers ourselves. The line didn’t seem like it was going very fast or very far. A lady brought around a little cup of Major Dickason’s blend to sample while we continued to wait. Eventually we gave up and just wandered past the table (which I believe had different coffees and possibly teas to try).

There was only one more stop on the Peet’s tour and it involved more sampling. The final room was…out of coffee. It was about 1:45, and the tour was only supposed to go until 2. I don’t think they anticipated the crowd that showed up. So, by the time we arrived there were candies to sample. They had chocolate covered cherries, but not like the syrupy, sugary, maraschino variety. It was more of a dried cherry on the inside and therefore tolerable. I don’t generally like cherries, and it wasn’t bad. They also had raspberry truffles that had a sour coating on the outside that was delightful. It reminded me of a sour jaw breaker for an instant and then gave way to the creamy raspberry suffused chocolate.

After sampling the candies and reading about the sustainability of Peet’s roastery more coffee arrived to save the caffeine deprived! There was some confusion about which coffee was in which container, so I may or may not have ended up with a piping hot cup of their JR Reserve. Regardless, it was a great cup of coffee. It started off mellow and bright and ended with a bit of a kick. I don’t normally drink my coffee black (read as: I drink mochas whenever possible), but I found that cup surprisingly palatable. It ought to be considering they sell the JR Reserve for $25 per ½ pound.

On our way out we were given a pound of House Blend that had been roasted today. Originally only the first 200 guests would walk away with coffee roasted today, but everyone who wanted a pound of coffee left with one. I think that was the most surprising moment for me, realizing that the coffee we had watched being roasted and bagged as we wandered around the warehouse was the coffee being offered to us as we left. I expected that experience from a tiny roasting company like (my favorite) Ritual Roasters in San Francisco, where their little roaster sits in the middle of the café surrounded by bags of raw coffee. But it never dawned on me that Peet’s coffee was that committed to freshness as well. Peet’s date stamps their bags of coffee. I can’t even imagine Starbucks doing the same.