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Indie coffeehouses

Caution, evalunta: Le Boulanger and Le Boulange are different firms. Le Boulanger is a modest, venerable bakery chain, around for decades, in Peninsula and South Bay -- not the Boulange of this thread.

I still wonder what is the appeal of Starbucks in the Bay Area in the first place (with or without pastries). If you grew up in this region and not too recently, then you remember independent coffeehouses by the dozen, long before Starbucks began. Some newer suburbs maybe lacked them, along with other traditions. But for places like SF and the older East Bay and Peninsula, the need to import corporate chain coffee houses (did someone mention centrally mass produced pastries? what about coffee beans??) has never been clear to this witness. It does advowedly appeal to representatives of other national corporations -- like the one that bought the Stanford Shopping Center ftom the university, and promptly kicked out its celebrated independent roaster and coffee shop (which the new owners apparently hadn't heard of) for Starbucks (which they explicitly had heard of). That notorious episode perhaps captures the spirit of Starbucks's role in the Bay Area.

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  1. "If you grew up in this region and not too recently, then you remember independent coffeehouses by the dozen"

    Not really. SF had Peets, and a Jammin Jumpin Java boom but there was a huge gap between then and Starbucks arrivals in force, until we got the Blue Bottle/Ritual type places.

    Before that, you had to go out of your way to visit a Owl & Monkey, or Blue Danube type place with lousy coffee, or a Royal Proper Whatever Grounds, Farley's, etc. unless you went to North Beach, or the Mission. The level of coffee wasn't very good.

    People like Starbucks because it represents uniformity, and safety. They know what they're getting and it's convenient. They can have roughly the same experience drinking the burnt coffee wherever they go.

    40 Replies
    1. re: sugartoof

      Rephrasing: *I* remember independent coffee houses by the dozen, and that was even before Peet's became a real chain with locations in SF.

      Berkeley and North Oakland alone must have had a good dozen before them (I could easily name several); the tradition was already in place when my parents hung out at independent coffee houses in those places in the 1950s. Some were run by Europeans. Fifty years ago, we kids would tag along and get a frappé or something and watch barristas at work. Later I hung out at several coffee houses in the 70s (again, before even Peet himself sold out his brand -- Peet's was another local example, albeit not quite my preferred roasing style).

      The North Beach always seemed to have lots of coffee houses, but I only occasionally stopped there. We have other regional roasters and coffee houses too, such as Teri Hope's in Santa Clara County (one formerly at Stanford mall, per above), again predating widespread Starbuck's. Coffee at many of these places was superb, in a different league entirely from SB.

      I do agree some corners of the Bay Area were less favored, but from my own and many of my peers' experiences, SB seemed out of place in much of the coffee-conscious Bay Area.

      1. re: eatzalot

        A Frappe during the glory years of old school coffee houses? Well, anyway...

        Coffee houses existed before Peets and Starbucks, sure...not saying otherwise.... but San Francisco just wasn't the coffee city it is now. There were waves of coffee booms, and the last one before Starbucks arrived was centered around very low quality coffee anyway, with places that had no soul, and put each other out of business because they were so generic.

        So sure, you can name a dozen independent coffee houses in your region, and they weren't serving the 100's of stores with Starbuck's reach, or even the current distribution of our smaller roasters, like Four Barrel and Blue Bottle.

        1. re: sugartoof

          sugartoof: "A Frappe during the glory years of old school coffee houses? Well, anyway..."

          Just to be clear: Frappé, as in smoothie, as distinct from frappe, pronounced "frap," the Boston regionalism for what's usually called a milkshake in the United States of America.

          The frappés were commonly sold to young non-coffee drinkers, much as "Shirley Temple" nonalcoholic cocktails were sold in bars at the same time. (Early 1960s.)

          1. re: eatzalot

            Neither were exactly specialties of the independent coffee house. They were popularized by the chains.

            1. re: sugartoof

              The "frappe" of Boston is a pure regional term, mentioned here only for linguistic clarification, no intended coffee connection there.

              The frappés I cited were certainly very common at the independent coffee houses of the 1960s in the East Bay, that is what I already testified here first-hand. And as I and RL have been pointing out, that era long predated the advent of chain coffee houses in this thread's sense.

              1. re: eatzalot

                You couldn't order anything called a Frappe out of a San Francisco coffehouse in the 60's....not even at Coffee and Confusion, where they piled on the fresh whip cream.

                1. re: sugartoof

                  sugartoof, I didn't claim upthread that "you" could order a frappé at any SF coffee house. Just that I had them commonly in East Bay coffee houses in the 1960s. I also had them occasionally in North Beach coffee houses. RL didn't assert upthread that everyone in SF had independent coffee houses on their block, only that such places were, in fact, numerous in SF overall -- far more numerous than in most of the US. Neither of us, I believe, referred to surviving 1960s coffee houses as experienced today, but as experienced 30-50 years ago.

                  This thread seems to make implicitly clear that not everyone present at the time experienced good independent coffee houses in the 1960s Bay Area. That was never in dispute. My original point was, and is, that many such coffee houses were present then, as anyone truly interested can confirm; and for people who WERE already accustomed to good local coffee in those days, the advent of corporate chains roasting their beans in Spokane for national distribution was not necessarily a step up. I don't see that specific point as disputed either.

                  In a peninsula town where I often go are several independent espresso houses. (Literally they ARE on every block.) One of them both roasts and imports its own beans -- it is a spinoff from the aforementioned Palo Alto Coffee Roasting Co., itself well established by 1990 or so (is that "VERY" recent history)? With such choices existing, it is not possible to argue that Starbucks brought fresh espresso drinks to the neighborhood, yet some people still go there by choice and THAT is the quirk I am trying to understand.

                  1. re: eatzalot

                    Firstly, what does a coffee house in the 60's have to do with Starbucks?

                    Again, there was nothing called a frappe in North Beach until the late 80's at earliest, and you're talking about something that was popularized in the early 90's by another era of coffee shops. It's still not a drink commonly associated with classic independent coffeehouses.

                    Again - The coffee scene was on a downswing from the time Malvina's closed until the bad Java named shop trend which wasn't about quality coffee, and then another downswing until Blue Bottle came along. Idealism aside, the level of coffee being sold was poor. So poor, that Starbucks was able to expand into the Bay Area and people were excited about it, and Peets copied their success and even roasts.

                    The fact is, you could not get an Ethiopean coffee in SF that didn't have the fruit notes roasted out of it's flavor profile until several years after Starbucks came around. Keep it in perspective.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      "[Frappé is] still not a drink commonly associated with classic independent coffeehouses."

                      It was a ubiquitous offering in the classic, VERY classic, independent coffee houses in the East Bay. I am testifying from experience, even if it was not experience you personally shared. I have no idea when (or that) frappés were "popularized," I only know about them from the 1960s and 1970s.

                      "what does a coffee house in the 60's have to do with Starbucks?"

                      That was the theme with which I joined this thread, and to which you directly responded (immediately disputing the point, which RL and I have since substantiated, that many independent coffee houses existed in the Bay Area before SB).

                      Finally, Peet's was founded 1966, five years before Starbucks; and as RL pointed out earlier, was already a successful Bay Area chain before Starbucks expanded into this region.

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        What did frappé mean on a coffeehouse menu in those days? These days it means some kind of blenderized iced coffee concoction, but coffee houses didn't have blenders back then.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I am only using "frappé" in the sense I ordered in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, in the East Bay (not just in North Beach), there was also a noticeable Italian presence in some coffee houses, I still recall one proprietor, Enzo, with a sometimes quick temper.

                          The frappés we got at coffee houses in those days were _blended_ drinks of fruit, ice, milk, or something like it, and possibly bottled fruit syrups (as used also in "Italian sodas" at the same coffee houses). I got to be fond of those frappés, and occasionally made them at home. A blender being a cheap enough accessory, for either home or restaurant. I probably had the first such coffee-house frappé in 1961, and the last some time in the 1970s.

                          Only later did I see roughly similar drinks vended commercially in stalls around UCB, later in chain places, as "smoothies." It seems some people in the Bay Area missed out on this old-line espresso-bar specialty (not that it warrants those people denying the history!) but the appeal may also have been mostly to younger folks who did not yet drink espresso, while their parents did.

                          ETA: One of my better international drinks reference books cites frappé as generic term, from France, for iced things. It has clearly been used various ways in coffee houses. I gather sugartoof may have had a different meaning in mind than the fruit drinks that were my introduction to the word.

                          1. re: eatzalot

                            "The frappés we got at coffee houses in those days were _blended_ drinks of fruit, ice, milk, or something like it, and possibly bottled fruit syrups "

                            Historically speaking, no North Beach coffeehouses were blending iced drinks or using fresh fruit in the 60's or 70's. Syrups, yes. Torani is an old SF company. A smoothie under any name was unheard of. Many places were even late to the iced coffee game.

                            What you're describing sounds closer to the mocktail type offerings of places like the Hungry I, which may get lumped in with the coffeehouse scene from time to time, but wasn't a traditional coffeehouse in the Bagel Shop/Trieste/Roma/Malvina way.

          2. re: sugartoof

            Until Starbucks's rapid expansion in the 90s, coffee culture in most of the US was cans and percolators.

            SF and Berkeley were two of the few places in the country where you could get good beans and a properly drawn espresso comparable to what you could get in Italy. The second wave started at Peet's.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              "SF and Berkeley were two of the few places in the country where you could get good beans and a properly drawn espresso comparable to what you could get in Italy. The second wave started at Peet's."

              Touché.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                You had to go out of your way to get Peet's, Spinelli's, Farley's, Simple Pleasures, Trieste, Roma, House of Coffee, or Malvina's...and a few more... but outside of that SF was full of canned coffee. And few of these places are regarded as good, today. Certainly not even close to what you get in Italy.

                Until Four Barrel, Blue Bottle, Equator, Verve, Ecco, Mr. Espresso, Ritual, De La Paz, and Sightglass began doing heavy wholesale accounts outside the shop, San Francisco 's independent shops were still almost entirely canned coffee, or beans coming from places like San Francisco Roasting Co., Capricorn, etc. or out of a can of Illy.That's VERY recent history.

            2. re: eatzalot

              Speaking of coffee history, this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Chronicle's famous "Swill" tirade.
              http://blog.sfgate.com/thebigevent/20...

              1. re: nocharge

                Great story. Maybe the Chron will someday revisit other past dramatic food stories, not always consonant with SF's wishful image as a Great Food City:

                "When San Francisco considered an ordinance to require that restaurants disclose which items had been frozen, it was shot down by the massed artillery of the local [restaurant] industry [led by Trader Vic himself]. (Hess and Hess, "The Taste of America," 1977, ISBN 0670693766, page 203.)

                By 1977 as some of us will again recall, _innovation_ in Bay Area restaurants had begun diffusing outwards, and was already prominent in the East Bay (North Bay would follow later).

              2. re: sugartoof

                There were coffee houses all over SF in the late 70s and early 80s. My friends and I used to wonder how the people who sat in them all day writing in their journals supported themselves.

                Until 1987, Peet's had only a handful of stores in the Bay Area, and Starbucks had a handful in Seattle.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  You don't say. By all over SF, you really just mean wherever you and your friends were.There were entire chunks of the city where a cafe, ice cream parlor or restaurant still doubled as the only place to sit and get a cup of coffee.

                  1. re: sugartoof

                    In the late 70s / early 80s there were coffee houses in North Beach, the Mission, Noe Valley, Eureka Valley, the Haight, Cole & Carl, Clement St., Union St., and Cow Hollow. Every neighborhood with a significant population of young people.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Worthwhile coffee houses? Or just places that served coffee. They were lousy.

                      And you missed about half the city with a young population, though you did list a transplants idea of San Francisco circa the 70's and 80's.

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        Few if any of the neighborhood coffee houses were as good as Caffe Trieste. I don't think they were worse than Starbucks.

                        Indeed, parts of SF still lacked coffee houses and other signs of modern civilization. In 1973 there were still enough Republicans in the avenues to elect John Barbagelata to the Board of Supervisors.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Lay off the politics. Barbagelata earned plenty of enemies, but he's the reason our Supervisors have term limits.

                          Is Trieste better than Starbucks? Sure. They're both pretty lousy, and share a burnt bean problem. Trieste has been more about the ambience since the early 90's, and they tried to become a franchise themselves shortly after.

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            My point is that the average SF coffee house in the 70s and 80s was better than Starbucks, so its expansion into SF in the 90s was of no great significance.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Huh? The SF Coffee houses either went downhill or out of business by the late 80's.

                              They weren't servicing the volume or the type of discriminating* coffee drinker we have today, and clearly, Starbucks arrival was of huge significance, because we have a coffee culture that sprang up in reaction to it, and out of awareness it was a big profit economy.

                              *Starbucks loyalists really love Starbucks, the way you like Peets Major Dickenson beans. It's not for lack of exposure, it's what they like.

                              1. re: sugartoof

                                The number of coffee houses in SF has increased steadily since the early 70s if not before. Individual shops and local chains had their ups and downs, but on average quality steadily improved.

                                Starbucks had no effect on SF's coffee culture. Their branches were usually the fifth or tenth or twentieth cafe in a neighborhood and the worst of the batch. In the 90s one of my friends used to go to the one in Noe Valley, we asked her, why do you go to that lousy place? "I can always get a seat."

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Starbucks in the old Bakers of Paris space rarely had seats in the 90's....and that's with a neighborhood favorite across the street. I had friends managing both.

                                  Okay, name the best coffee shop on Haight St. in 1992.
                                  Name the best coffee shop in Hayes Valley in 1993.
                                  Where was there to go during those years for great coffee on Valencia street?

                                  Did they roast their own? What roaster did they use?

                                  Should be an easy question to answer, but we both know it's not.

                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                    "My friends and I used to wonder how the people who sat in them all day writing in their journals supported themselves."

                    The traditional mystery in the bohemian parts of the Bay Area.

                    1. re: eatzalot

                      Some of us worked part-time; waited tables, did bike messengering - days/nights/weekends. Or, we were bank tellers, lab assistants, MUNI drivers...musicians and whatnots. I have no regrets of my misspent and squandered youth.

                  3. re: sugartoof

                    Granted that we were somewhat clueless in the late 60's but we did know of Graffeo Coffee's roasted beans in North Beach... a long history since 1935
                    http://www.graffeo.com/index.html

                    We had our Chemex pots at home next to the French coffee press and the Italian moka pot with a hand-cranked coffee bean grinder.

                    Coffee houses like Caffe Trieste (1956) in North Beach,
                    and local neighborhood places on 24th Street, Bernal Heights, and in the Haight weaned us back in the 70's and 80's. We shunned the arrivals of Starbucks.
                    Now? We're drinking teas and savoring the fine bakeries that tempt us; artisanal or not, content to live in San Francisco and sit on a bench in the park(s).

                    1. re: Cynsa

                      I learned about Caffe Trieste in 1965 and made long regular trips to get there from the inner Richmond. I knew nothing except that I liked this and it was so much different from anything I had known.

                      1. re: Cynsa

                        Thank you for mentioning Graffeo's. From my first visit here in '80, they were a big reason I fell in love with the Bay. Them and the abundance of well-frequented coffee shops. And you could find Graffeo coffee all over the region if you looked hard enough.

                        As for the dismissive attitude around "canned" coffee, its true that most canned coffee was truly bad, and none could compete in the current coffee market, but there is and was a big difference between Illy and Chockful O'Nuts - and Illy was the default choice for most North Beach coffee shops back then. Back in those bad old days I remember looking for Farmer Brothers coffee when traveling on California back roads.

                        Its not meaningful to compare the state of coffee then to what it is now. A better standard is to compare with the rest of the US, and by that measure the Bay Area has been ahead of the curve.

                        1. re: Cynsa

                          Sounds good.

                          Graffeo is a good one I should have mentioned - but they never had seating or brewed coffee.

                          Trieste just isn't very good. Nor is Proper Grounds in Bernal.
                          Spinelli's on 24th (Now Bernie's) was good for the time, but doesn't really hold up today. Starbucks helped create an industry around coffee and we've seen better quality. I can't recall anything worthwhile on Haight, based on coffee rather than hanging around.

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            Trieste was good in the 70s and early 80s. That was the one place I knew that reliably drew a proper espresso. I think it went downhill when they started having non-family members work there.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Long before Starbucks was a factor...

                              My heart still belongs to Malvina's. That was as serious as coffee got in SF. The guy had his own museum for goodness sakes.

                            2. re: sugartoof

                              Was Progressive Grounds around back then? I think Bernal was entirely obscure back in the '70s - home to the SLA and the Mime Troupe, but Cortland Street was an unknown shell of a former dockworkers' neighborhood. Empty.

                              In the '80s I lived in the Mission. Cafe La Boheme was the center of the cafe universe. Quality of coffee? Who can remember. Better than Hunt's Donuts! Same for the coffee houses along 16th Street. (Was Piccolo around in '81?) The point was definitely not to have some peak experience "cupping" pretentiously sourced coffee. The point was to get by on bike messenger wages hanging with other broke bohemians. I miss those days for sure. And I reject any attempt to compare those products and those sensibilities with those of today.

                              1. re: BernalKC

                                La Boheme was one of the closest coffee houses to where I lived in the early 80s. Brewed coffee was better than Starbucks. Espresso could be decent, depended on who was running the machine.

                                Picaro opened in 1982.

                                Progressive Grounds' web site says they opened on Cortland in 1996. Some hipster coffee house opened on Mission between Powers and Virginia around 1989.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Like La Boheme, Picaro was a great scene. No one was there for the coffee. (I thought we drank cheap wine.)

                                  Hipster coffee house? Do you mean Cafe Commons? It was a wonderful place, known more for the patio and owners than the coffee. Or do you mean Cafe Abo, where ICHI is? He made great sandwiches.

                                  Progressive Grounds has never had good coffee that I can remember.

                                  1. re: Windy

                                    Yeah, Cafe Commons. I got their coffee a few times in emergencies, it was OK.

                        2. I moved to the East Bay in 1993, spending a lot of time in Berkeley, and all the most prominent places as well as obvious indie places on Southside and Northside (esp. Strada, Milano and a few others on Telegraph) served awful coffee. Starbucks at the time was really a step up, and at the time a totally different beast than it is now. There were less than 200 stores around then, but it just began the explosive growth following the IPO. (I think there were 2000 stores before the year 2000, and there must be at least 5 times that now). I was a regular Starbucks drinker in that period and felt it started out clearly better in terms of black coffee than post of the other places I would go to in those days (only occasionally made it to Peet's, which I found still too dark) and stayed so at least until 1996 or so. Around then I switched to Royal Coffee (McLaughlin) Max's Blend, which was my standard for another 12 years or so.

                          I am a recent convert (2 years) to the 3rd wave style that many of you don't like. That also goes to show how important individual tastes are in the whole question.

                          Realistically, supermarket canned coffee and similar commodity coffee is still the dominant coffee by sales and consumption volume in the country. Starbucks/Peets/other 2nd wave chains are differentiated over that in the minds of most people including significant fractions of Bay Area residents, even in the East Bay and SF. Most people are happy with their Starbucks and its ubiquity and consistency. Most people don't care that much about searching out an Indie coffee shop that they like.

                          Look, I roast my own coffee these days and brew mostly by individual drip. The reality is that Starbucks is good enough for most people who want something other than random diner coffee or Folger's.

                          48 Replies
                          1. re: twocents

                            When I first went to a Starbucks in Seattle around 1989, it seemed to me like a knockoff of Peet's, which I didn't realize then was exactly what it was. I was happy to find them when I traveled elsewhere in the country, since it was drinkable, but to my taste it was a step down from the Peet's or Graffeo I brewed at home.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I can believe that; it certainly was at the time roasted distinctly a notch or two less dark than Peet's. I guess that's still true even today. By the same token, if someone who likes Starbucks finds Peet's roasts too dark, they would consider it a step down from Starbucks.

                              What I really remember from the early to mid 90's in Starbucks was that they still cared to emphasize sourcing by region (though not producer necessarily). They could still do that and it showed. Now it's all about Blend 1 Blend 2 Blend 3 simply because of their needed volumes.

                              1. re: twocents

                                Actually, Starbucks is umping on the bandwagon to keep up with the times, and focusing on Single Source coffees now. The blends are their bread and butter, but they sell better stuff as beans, or by cup off the menu. The new Starbucks decor is industrial, with photos of farms, and coffee sacks.

                                It's interesting, because I think you're right, they initially helped emphasize the idea of sourcing by region.

                                1. re: twocents

                                  We were routinely getting specific beans like Guatemala Antigua, Kenyan, and Sumatra Mandheling, for home grinding and brewing, from Peet's by the early 1970s. Some of those were VERY good and that is when I started really to like coffee.

                                  That was just about the same time that, according to Wikipedia's history of Starbucks, the latter's three original owners, having met earlier at the U. of San Francisco, "were inspired to sell high-quality coffee beans and equipment [in Seattle] by coffee roasting entrepreneur Alfred Peet after he taught them his style of roasting beans." Which would make Starbuck's what we call around silicon valley a "spinoff" of Peet's.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    Note that those are regions. You were still drinking blends. Regional blends.

                                    I don't think it's in question that Starbuck's was inspired by Peet's. Nobody is championing Starbuck's as original or innovative here.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      The two chains' histories were deeply intertwined. Attempt at a nutshell summary:

                                      1984, Starbucks co-founder Jerry Baldwin and others bought the existing few Peet's locations from the interim owner whom Alfred Peet had sold to in 1979. In 1987, Starbucks's original ownership sold Starbuck's, leaving a Starbuck's founder owning the Peet's chain instead, which in turn expanded, went public, and last year was acquired by the German holding company that owns it now.

                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                        "Nobody is championing Starbuck's as original or innovative here."

                                        No, but this whole thread was sparked by your claim in your first post above that the arrival of Starbucks in SF was of major significance due to the alleged dearth of local coffee houses.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          That's right...because by 1992, places like Boheme and Picaro, that you mentioned, were full of vagrants and serving stale coffee. Trieste became more of a community center, and wasn't even using their roaster around that time. There was no real coffee culture to speak of, no real talk about the beans, no cuppings, no small lot single origins, it was just bad coffee.

                                          Do you not remember the Jammin Java trend I keep mentioning? I know we all want to forget that one, but those shops really were the death toll. It was like the cupcake trend, and those places opened in a lot of areas that lacked coffeehouses...and they peddled more lousy coffee.

                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                            Did Jammin Java have more than two shops? They were never more than a drop in the bucket.

                                            There was no death knell. The one on Cole St. is still in business under another name.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Were you still living in the city around 93?

                                              Every other coffee shop opening had a copycat name with the word Java in the name. Muddy Waters and Church Street Cafe are hold overs from that era. They're awful.

                                            2. re: sugartoof

                                              La Boheme's decline in the mid '90s was due to an ownership change. It was always popular with "vagrants" but the explosion of homelessness in the '90s was an issue faced by a lot of coffee houses at the time. The new owners let the place go to seed. Not sure if the coffee declined or not, the problem was more about the street culture of 24th & Mission, and the dinginess and general malaise that set in with the new owners.

                                              The Muddy Waters / 'Jamming' chain you mention was indeed low-brow. But it was not the only player in the local market. Royal Grounds was similarly sized and growing - and definitely better though not great. Noe was a restaurant and coffee wasteland at that time, but I had indy coffee houses I frequented in most neighborhoods: Has Beans, Cafe Flor, Cafe Grecco, City Cafe, Brainwash... come to mind. Indy coffee houses come and go, then and now.

                                              But the details don't really matter. I again object to any attempt to measure coffee culture of the '90s or '80s against the state of the art today. There was no cupping. The kids pumping lattes were not called barristas. There was an awareness of roasting and sourcing of beans, but it was rudimentary by modern standards. I guess you argue that Starbucks set that in motion and propelled the industry towards its current state. And I would agree that they played a big role in that movement, especially on a national scale. But I would argue that they were not that central to the evolution of the local scene. Part of it, sure. But equally the object of contempt, disdain, and resistance in favor of local indy businesses.

                                              The effort in the '90s to preserve a local roastery and keep SB out of Mill Valley center - which eventually lead to Peet's taking over the store instead of SB would be a good case study of the market dynamics of that time.

                                              1. re: BernalKC

                                                " Has Beans, Cafe Flor, Cafe Grecco, City Cafe, Brainwash... come to mind. "

                                                Eh. Not the best stuff either... but it represented what was considered good coffee at the time. Some still would consider it good, and find the current coffee styles too light, or not coffee enough for them. Agree about the barista culture being non-existent. Coffee wasn't yet a gourmet item in the same way we see today. I already used the example of Ethiopean beans - I remember when Yergacheffe beans were really trendy in the 90's, but they were roasting out everything characteristically unique to the region's beans.

                                                I'd credit Blue Bottle is responsible for the local scene over Starbucks...but even if it was just a reaction to Starbucks, that's still an influence. Remember, BB opened in 2002, and Ritual in 2005. I can't think of anything notable happening coffee related in the Bay Area during the years leading up to that... maybe Peets expansion?

                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                  The origin of Ritual (and Four Barrel) is that Eileen and Jeremy worked at Torrefazione on California Street, and Starbucks bought it. They used Stumptown beans for at least the first year and a half.

                                                  1. re: Windy

                                                    I didn't know about the Torrefazione connection.

                                                    Stumptown still has a partnership stake in Four Barrel, a relationship with their beans, don't they?

                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                      It's possible, but not that I know of. Jeremy wanted to roast beans and started doing so at Ritual. Four Barrel has always roasted its beans and then just acquired De La Paz, and raised the prices.

                                                      I have an ongoing issue with both Blue Bottle and Four Barrel where I like the coffee they serve but am unhappy with their beans when I buy them. It's especially mystifying to me with BB how much a gap there seems to be, and frustrating considering I'm not saving anything making it at home. (I have an Aeropress. Better results with other beans.)

                                                      1. re: Windy

                                                        Duane Sorenson of Stumptown was a partner http://www.7x7.com/eat-drink/four-bar...
                                                        Just not sure if they're still sourcing their green beans for them (it was clear by their offerings for a while) or what the relationship is currently.

                                                        I share your frustrations. A lot of these roasts are either too fussy to get good results at home, or there's just no quality control, for what they're bagging. Other beans are better at home, and rarely great in the stores (De La Paz comes to mind).

                                                        1. re: Windy

                                                          I used to have good consistent results with Blue Bottle (bought the beans in Oak) but noticed inconsistencies when they started to expanded. I rarely buy there beans now but I still enjoy their coffee.

                                                          1. re: JonDough

                                                            I like Blue Bottle, but yeah, it's a chain now. They have plans to expand even more. I try to avoid Giant Step or Three Africas (though they do hit the spot sometimes), and I usually get good results that way.

                                                          2. re: Windy

                                                            I had an Irish business professor in Europe that called American coffee dirty brown water, an opinion he said many Europeans shared. He was thankful when Starbucks became so prevalent because he could then find a decent cup of coffee when he had to travel here for business.

                                                            1. re: JonDough

                                                              Many Americans who knew good coffee shared your professor's view. Including this American who first began drinking coffee regularly when in Paris 40+ years ago where the standards (not to mention the pastries) were revelatory.

                                                              The Hesses in their famous book "The Taste of America" (1977) went on about American coffee's faults. One of Paul Fussell's popular social-criticism books (I think "Class," 1983), characterized US chain restaurants -- "in these establishments very weak coffee, permitting you to see through to the bottom of the cup, will be served."

                                                              The professor might have gained a different impression if the US time had been spent in Berkeley, even in the 1960s or earlier, which is part of the point of this thread. Agreed Starbucks helped out the national average, and the Hesses even mentioned that trend in the late-1990s reissue of their book.

                                                              It was also possible to make your own better coffee. I remember getting a Chemex and some decent beans in Berkeley in the mid-1970s, by which time Peet's wasn't the only local source. As did many friends and relatives. (By 1976 Kenneth Davids's book "Coffee" was available to anyone interested, and it and later editions helped popularize many principles this thread touches on.)

                                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                                Thank you for the information. I have enjoyed following this thread even though I wasn't alive during the time period being discussed. When I started drinking coffee in college, Starbucks was already on every corner.

                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                  Some people still genuinely like the taste of Starbucks above and beyond our personal favorite coffees, or brewing methods.

                                                                2. re: JonDough

                                                                  @jondough: aka brown crayon water : -)

                                                                  I will be forever grateful to Blue Bottle for introducing me to the Gibraltar and to their version of New Orleans iced coffee, which I now make at home using their recipe, albeit with other beans. And the Mint Plaza outpost is still our favourite place to drink coffee in SF so far.

                                                                  1. re: grayelf

                                                                    Forever grateful to BB as well. I used to have meetings in SF and would always stop at mint plaza beforehand. Love it there.

                                                          3. re: sugartoof

                                                            >>I can't think of anything notable happening coffee related in the Bay Area during the years leading up to that... <<

                                                            I may be conflating your POV with eatzalot, but it strikes me that judging the Bay Area coffee scene of the 20th century by the terms of the 21st century standards is meaningless. By that standard, there was not only nothing notable happening here, there was nothing notable happening anywhere. Even Old World havens of higher coffee roasting standards fail to measure up to the "3rd wave" sensibilities.

                                                            And from my POV its a shame, because where we are today owes a lot to the coffee house culture of SF and Berkeley. Its been an evolution, one that I suspect will continue flowering and changing.

                                                            1. re: BernalKC

                                                              "where we are today owes a lot to the coffee house culture of SF and Berkeley."

                                                              Without question, I'm not slighting the Bay Area contributions but realistically the coffee culture during the late 80's into the late 90's, just prior to leading up to the "3rd wave" coffee boom was a shameful dark period where the coffee itself was secondary to open mic nights, the coffeehouse doubling as amateur art galleries, ridiculous latte art....heck, lattes themselves with expanded novelty menus...featured generic pastries/food... and coffeehouse owners opening copycat locations, attempting to franchise. We also inherited the barista tagline as a career, but nobody from Seattle or Portland would have been satisfied by our coffee offerings. It was also the beginnings of featured beans from exotic regions like Guatemala, or Kenya, which would have been a positive if the public wasn't mislead into thinking entire countries produced uniformly tasting coffee or that Java when applied to coffee should refer to anything other than an Indonesia origin. Plenty of these places still exist and do decent business.

                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Seems like a good place to ask if anyone knows the story of John Weaver's involvement with both Peet's and Starbucks. In recent years I've become a fan of Weaver's dark roasts that are an integral part of my daily morning ritual.

                                                The story found here mentions his early connection to Peet's: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/830425 But the story I've heard was back at that time Peet's was the original roaster for Starbucks and John Weaver was already established as a pioneering roaster. Anyone care to confirm, refute, or clarify that?

                                                At this point both Peet's and Starbucks serve a useful purpose. When I'm traveling, SB is a known quantity. Institutional mediocrity perhaps. But a hell of a lot better than the average swill found in most locales - Dunkin Donuts anyone?

                                                1. re: BernalKC

                                                  Starbucks beats Dunkin Donuts any day. Agreed.

                                                  I don't have any insight to your question, but my understanding is Peet's distributed (green?) beans to the original Starbuck's.

                                                  1. re: BernalKC

                                                    Alfred Peet opened his first shop in 1966 after 20 years in the business (not counting growing up around his father's roastery).

                                                    Peet trained Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker, who moved to Seattle and opened the first Starbucks in 1971.

                                                    John Weaver moved to the Bay Area in 1978, after he graduated from high school, and learned his trade from Peet.

                                                    Peet retired in 1979 and sold the business to Sal Bonavita.

                                                    Jim Reynolds learned his trade from Jerry Baldwin, and after Baldwin et al. bought Peet's in 1984 he was head roaster for years.

                                                2. re: twocents

                                                  "I moved to the East Bay in 1993, spending a lot of time in Berkeley, and all the most prominent places as well as obvious indie places on Southside and Northside (esp. Strada, Milano and a few others on Telegraph) served awful coffee."

                                                  I'm sorry, I don't recognize either of those names, possibly those were newer places, after the times I indicated in this thread.

                                                  Popular independent Berkeley coffee houses in the 1970s-80s included for example:

                                                  - "The Med" (officially Cafe Mediterraneum?) on Telegraph near the campus. Possibly the East Bay's most famous coffee house in the 50s and 60s. Scholars like Kurt Goedel would hang out there.

                                                  - Not far from the Med, one on a side street just uphill from Tel. Ave. that I remember as one of several around Berkeley that explained, on their wall menus, espresso as follows: "if you don't know what it is, you don't want it."

                                                  - The place on the SW corner Bancroft & College, forget its name.

                                                  - Three C's on Hearst E. of Euclid (same dense little complex that housed the original Yoshi's location). A crêperie run by one guy, with a picture of Meher Baba; also served espressos.

                                                  - The ancient place on Hearst just WEST of Euclid. Spacious, Italian-run.

                                                  - Peet's of course, the original single shop on Vine.

                                                  All served coffee (here and in this thread I refer almost always to espresso drinks) that, while different in detail, blew away anything I've had at any Starbucks throughout that chain's history. Its hard for me to imagine someone familiar with that coffee scene, as I knew it, perceiving Starbucks as an improvement to what was available. Maybe the Berkeley coffee houses went to hell at some point, and I was lucky to miss it.

                                                  There were also some places in the Elmwood-Rockridge districts and I have fleeting memories of my parents going there for coffee in the 1960s but more often, they went to the old-worldish haunts around the UC campus.

                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                    The place on the corner of Bancroft and College has been Caffè Strada since 1989.

                                                        1. re: twocents

                                                          I am talking about early 80's. Espresso close to campus for those who required concetrated caffeine shots.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        The café in that location was Café Roma from at least 1980 to 85.

                                                        1. re: tcamp

                                                          Aha, I thought that cafe had been around longer than that.

                                                            1. re: tcamp

                                                              It was Roma later than that. I wrote a screenplay there in 87 or 88.

                                                              1. re: Windy

                                                                It was cafe roma, then changed its name to cafe strada in 1989. i thought the only thing that changed was the name.

                                                                cafe bottega was also popular - that was on the east side of telegraph across from blondies.

                                                                my guess is that if the quality of coffee at random coffeehouses across the country was at the level of cafe milano, cafe roma, cafe strada, cafe meditteraneum, etc., starbucks wouldn't be nearly as popular as it is today.

                                                                1. re: calumin

                                                                  Before Starbucks went national there weren't many coffeehouses or other aspects of coffee culture in other US cities I visited except for Seattle. I used to travel with a little drip brewer. When I was in New York for six months in 1984 the only half-decent beans I found were at an Italian deli in the East Village.

                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    I agree with you and calumin. Around 1980 I went to live for a time in the Boston area, and was surprised to find that largely, in that metropolitan area, espresso drinks were considered an exotic "ethnic" specialty, relegated to the old Italian quarter in Boston's North End. Coffee per se was available around the various college neighborhoods, but nothing like the espresso-coffeehouse culture I had experienced in Berkeley the previous 20 years.

                                                                    I'm told that the Boston-area situation began changing rapidly a few years later. But the point is, it was not the tradition there that it had been in Berkeley.

                                                                    Calumin's last pph above expresses the same perception that led me to first join this thread.

                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                      There was only one Alfred Peet and he lived here. If it hadn't been for Howard Schultz, most of the country might still be in the coffee dark ages.

                                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      NYC was very late to the game though, party because of the popularity of coffee shops and diners vs cafes.

                                                                      The first decent espresso I found in NY consistently was less than four years ago. Last summer, I had great coffee all over town.

                                                            2. re: eatzalot

                                                              Well, clearly then we're speaking of different decades altogether. Also, when I talk about coffee I am talking mostly about brewed coffee. I do think in a lot of these threads we're talking past each other due to differing assumptions: espresso/brewed; not to mention the whole roast styles debate. It's my opinion that there are not clear ideals for these things, merely a range of preferences and we would do well to be clearer about this from the outset.

                                                              I don't mean to defend Starbucks particularly, but I do think it is worth noting how the beast has changed over the years. I certainly don't want to discount it's relationship to Peet's, which is pretty well documented and not at issue.

                                                              1. re: twocents

                                                                The "roast styles debate" is only as old as third-wave coffee, which has been around only about ten years, fifteen if you count the little local pockets around the world where it got started.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  There have always been medium roasts and darker roasts. The only thing new is the introduction of the lighter tea like roasts for sale to the public, as opposed to trying to roast until every bean is uniformly tasting like a generic concept of "coffee". So the debate is as old as bringing in coffee by region. It didn't start 10 years ago.

                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                    There were no medium roasts at Peet's until 2011, only dark and darker, just like in Italy. There was no debate about that, it was just accepted that dark roast was the one true way.

                                                                    Graffeo had "light" and "dark," but the light was Vienna, which is farther into the dark than many third-wavers will go.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      "There were no medium roasts at Peet's until 2011"

                                                                      Peet's rolled out medium roasts bagged to the supermarkets, with a marketing push in 2011.

                                                                      You could get medium roasts before that.

                                                          1. Times have changed. I remember the San Mateo bookstore twenty years ago was really popular both for its books and its coffee. Then it got hit both by Amazon and by Starbucks.

                                                            Cody's in Berkeley is gone. Most of the coffee shops in Berkeley are also gone.

                                                            Torrefazione Italia was really good on the high end. They had 17 retail shops (they made more money as a wholesaler) but when Starbucks bought them they closed all the stores.

                                                            There was a South Park episode which captured the situation with Starbucks very well. People hate Starbucks when they come in and kill the local shop. But in most cases, Starbucks actually tastes better than the pure independent shop. Seattle and SF are probably exceptions, but in a lot of places owners actually don't train their baristas to make a properly-brewed cup of coffee - and people would not rather chance it.

                                                            In SF today there are so many really good specialty coffeehouses that I don't know why people would pick Starbucks if another option was available.

                                                            Although I did have a single-brew pour-over from Starbucks a couple months ago which I thought was pretty good. It's really not hard to mess that up if a coffeeshop is setup to take the time to make it.

                                                            1. This thread got into memory lanes, a passing part of my original Starbucks comments. Clearly some, even if not all, parts of the Bay Area had excellent beans and brews before that chain's vast expansion (1990s-on). (And thank you, twocents, for the astute observation about talking past each other.)

                                                              My greater interest though is recent situations, as in two comparisons I cited.

                                                              One small-town downtown having (in about six blocks) six independents (two large; one direct-imports and roasts on site), a Peet's (well run and exacting), and a Starbucks. In over 10 years I literally have yet to hear from any local person who has tried any of the others and prefers Starbucks. (Though someone did once go on a rampage with a construction tractor, smashing it into Starbucks.) But it stays busy. Clearly not by offering better coffee.

                                                              And the Stanford Mall. Formerly, in its part of the Bay Area, a gastronomic ingredients "destination" in the manner of SF's Ferry Plaza, or Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto (speaking here of the Ghetto's original heyday, with fewer restaurants but four pioneering food retailers, incl. original Peet's -- three of which are gone today, counting Peets which I understand became a sort of museum; Cheese Board remains).

                                                              At Stanford Mall, this status rested on four pillars: An independent produce mkt., independent meat mkt., Oakville Grocery (food exotica, superb wines/spirits selection), and Palo Alto Coffee Roasting Co., classy direct importer-roaster with cofees, teas, etc. I lived farther from there than today, but made the trip regularly for supplies. Stopped years ago.

                                                              Why? Two pillars collapsed. Oakville imploded from financial issues. Then the Mall's new corporate owners, uninterested in gastronomic destinations, edged out Palo Alto Roasting, avowedly to replace it with Starbucks's greater "brand recognition." So much for Stanford Mall, but the case did not commend Starbucks to the local foodie world.

                                                              Imagine if a property owner had edged out, say, A16 for Pizza Hut, or Chez Panisse Café for Olive Garden, citing "brand recognition."

                                                              16 Replies
                                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                                Sigona's and Schaub's are still at Stanford Mall. Which three of four are you talking about?

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Robert Lauriston: "Sgona's and Schaub's are still at Stanford Mall. Which three of four are you talking about?"

                                                                  Please re-read. Two of four pillars collapsed. Also Sigona's used to be an outpost of one of the Berkeley produce mkts --Monterey? But my focus here is coffee.

                                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                                    "four pioneering food retailers, incl. original Peet's -- three of the four are gone now"

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      Two different pphs, Robert - two different sets of four. Again: please re-read carefully.

                                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                                        I read it several times and remain baffled.

                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                          The Gourmet Ghetto group were in Berkeley. The Stanford Mall is in Palo Alto. The Ferry Plaza is in SF. This thread is about coffee houses.

                                                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                                                            Ah, now I see what you said.

                                                                            Poulet, Cheese Board, and Peet's are still in business. Peet's has not changed much though quality has declined a bit in recent years. Pig by the Tail's gone. Which other places were you thinking of?

                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                              I counted Peet's out, based just on public reports that it doesn't have the same basic retail role there as in the past.

                                                                              The four GG stalwarts of past days that I counted were Peets (opened '66), Cheese Board (68?), Pig by the Tail Charcuterie (73), and the chocolate place, Cocolat? (1970s). That compares roughly to the ingredients destinations count in the Stanford Mall in its own separate heyday around 1990. Where there was no shortage at all of world-class coffee, pre-Starbucks.

                                                                              Arguably the first important food retailer in the Gourmet Ghetto was the Pantry Shelf Delicatessen (Shattuck slightly north of Vine), already thriving in 1964, which overlapped Peet's and possibly Cheese Board, before being swallowed up in the commercial-rental turnover there, along with several non-food old-line shops.

                                                                              However, so many waves of new locals have been transplanted into that neighborhood since then that many of them have no awareness of the Pantry Shelf, and made a big deal about how novel was the arrival of a New York style deli there a few years ago -- unaware that it was a return of a genre once well known in that neighborhood.

                                                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                Cocolat threw in the towel, but Masse's, which is now in that space, is pretty much the same kind of business.

                                                                                Wasn't the Pantry Shelf > Rosenthal's > Saul's space always a deli?

                                                                                The Vine St. Peet's still has a strong retail business, it often has a line for people buying beans. Probably self-perpetuating due to higher turnover than the new shops.

                                                                                Chez Panisse, Poulet, and Cheese Board are still there.

                                                                                Pig by the Tail is long gone and North Berkeley Wines moved.

                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  Poulet! Yes, came in at the end of 1970s, I used to stop there.

                                                                                  Like some other Gourmet Ghetto addresses (e.g. Cheese Board's first Shattuck address), Poulet's space was converted from a longtime old-fashioned pharmacy. Most had soda fountains with counter seats.

                                                                                  I can't speak to deli continuity on the Shattuck 1400 block (E. side, odd-numbered addresses) -- only that Pantry Shelf left in the 1970s. A source of European packaged goods when those were quite rare around Berkeley, as well as fresh deli items.

                                                                                  There was SO MUCH turnover on that block! The Vine corner, a Co-Op annex/pharmacy before the new one was built farther south, became Black Oak Books and I don't know what's there now. The classy butcher shop on that block in the 80s is gone now (a N. Berkeley counterpart of Ver Brugge), another important G G ingredients source in its time.

                                                                                  We'd best stay focused on coffee though -- I mentioned the Ghetto as a reference point for the comparably intense group of ingredients sources accumulated at the Stanford shopping center by about 1990, including PACRC, importer-roaster, roughly a local counterpart of original Peet's, and widely appreciated in Santa Clara County. Its owner still has her other location in Los Gatos.

                                                                                  Had the original Peet's been pushed out of its space in say 1975 by new property owners -- NOT to fill any vacancy, but explicitly to bring in a mediocre chain to replace it -- you'd have a situation like what occurred at Stanford. Its mall had operated for decades under university ownership, during which the gastronomic shops accumulated there. Only after Stanford sold the mall, a few years ago, to a firm that operates many shopping malls did the Starbucks vs PACRC power-play arise.

                                                                                  I'm sure some people here understand.

                                                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                    Starbucks opened a branch at Shattuck and Cedar, but closed it after a few years because it "underperformed."

                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                      Then there's hope for Western civilization, after all.

                                                                                    2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                      I still miss Lenny's Meats and they must have closed in the 90's.

                                                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                        "- NOT to fill any vacancy"

                                                                                        If they weren't trying to fill a vacancy the space would be vacant. You're talking about a mall with a Neiman Marcus, and the first Victoria Secret, for goodness sakes.

                                                                                        If it makes you feel any better, Bernie's opened up at Crocker Galleria this year, so there's a case of an independent coffee house expanding into a mall setting.

                                                                                        Tully's aside, Starbucks is not putting anyone out of business.

                                                                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                          "If they weren't trying to fill a vacancy the space would be vacant. You're talking about ..."

                                                                                          What *I* am talking about here is something that I actually know about. The case was well documented in the local press at the time. PACRC's lease came up for a renewal after many years in that mall, at its central location near the produce, meat, and packaged-goods vendors already mentioned. The mall's new owners refused to lease the space to PACRC again, instead offering a remote spot in a separate annex of the mall, EXPLICITLY stating that they preferred Starbucks as a flagship coffee house, for its name recognition.

                                                                                          Please stop trying to shoot down every factual report here that you don't happen to like.

                                                                                2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                  Ferry Plaza? Huh? There's a Blue Bottle and a Peets. They're both chains. Sightglass now has a booth.

                                                                                  Stanford Mall? It uh, had a grocery store and a coffee importer that you're mourning? Stanford wasn't filled with little artisanal stores in the 80's, so I'm clearly lost. Why begrudge a mall for putting in high rent chains to fill their vacancies? It's a mall.

                                                                    2. This isn't a reply to eatzalot, but to everyone about the local vs. chain comments of coffee houses. I actually roast my own coffee at home, but really enjoy a lot of the small local roasters that have popped up lately, even if they don't have coffee houses which are more expensive to run. In the East bay alone I don't think I can count all the new roasters.

                                                                      But Peet's as local? When I saw a Peet's at the Dallas airport years ago, I knew something was up. Peet's is local to the Bay Area the way Starbucks is local to Seattle (indeed Starbucks was started by a former Peet's employee). Peet's is everywhere, with (in my mind) really poor coffee roasts. Perhaps more importantly, even compared to Starbucks, they offer fewer roast types, less organic and fair trade coffee, and treat there workers worse than Starbucks (no health care for Peet's employees, at least in the Berkeley stores--Starbucks employees who work 20 hours or more get health care). So I'm pretty down on Peets--bad coffee, and really doesn't espouse the values of the Bay Area that most of us cherish.

                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                      1. re: cjp123

                                                                        Peet's was local from 1965 until the 80s. They have health care:

                                                                        "Our benefit offering includes medical, dental, vision packages, and prescription coverage for both full and part-time employees (those working a minimum of 21 hours per week)."

                                                                        http://www.peets.com/about-us/careers

                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                          Glad they have health care now. Admittedly I had not known a Peet's employee for a while but there was a time when Starbucks offered it in the 90's and Peets didn't.

                                                                          But in my opinion (as a coffee drinker--I'll leave social responsibility aside for now) Peet's cannot maintain quality because they centralize their roasting facilities now that they are so big. The difference between a cup at Blue Bottle vs. Peets (Peets in my opinion overroasts their beans and offer nothing in the way of a city to full city roast) is stunning. I like supporting local businesses generally, but I feel supporting Peets is not supporting a local community anymore than going to Starbucks in Berkeley--they both employee people who live in the Bay Area.

                                                                          1. re: cjp123

                                                                            One person's "overroasted" is another's "that tastes like coffee." The espresso at Blue Bottle is first-rate, but I've never had drip coffee I like made from their beans, or managed to make drip coffee I like using beans from any other third-wave roaster.

                                                                            For whatever reason, Peet's has gone downhill as their prices have gone up. I've given up on finding beans I like at a reasonable price and am roasting my own for $5-6 a pound.

                                                                            I have no problem with big corporations if they offer quality products. Some of the big coffee companies in Italy make good products (though I haven't seen any of those around here in recent years).

                                                                            1. re: cjp123

                                                                              As Robert said, the "local" reference to Peet's is historic -- but strong. Peet's was basically unknown outside the Bay Area for its first 25 years or so, long enough for a few million people to remember it as a local brand. It still has corporate offices in Emeryville, and is largely a West-Coast business, with vastly fewer total locations than Starbucks.

                                                                              In case this is any comfort, people in the Bay Area have complained about Peet's overroasting in my hearing for over 40 years -- long before many currently hipper coffee roasting firms (or even some of their employees) existed.

                                                                          2. re: cjp123

                                                                            "even compared to Starbucks, they offer fewer roast types, less organic and fair trade coffee"

                                                                            This is the key.

                                                                            Peet's product is no longer a good one.

                                                                            Locals have an affection for the place, and maybe even the overroasted taste of their coffee, but it's largely nostalgia based, habit, or like Starbucks or any chain, just a matter of convenience and brand allegiance. As a chain, they're not very well run at this point, so while we should champion local success stories, like say, The Gap, it doesn't really make sense to include them as one of the good guys in a discussion about indie coffeehouses vs. Starbucks. In 10 years, we might have to say the same of Blue Bottle.

                                                                          3. Happiest days of my life were hanging in SF Coffeeshops in the 70s. Barely employed but full of energy.
                                                                            Malvinas in North Beach was my favorite and the various places on Haight and in the Mission.
                                                                            Starbucks, while welcome in an airport or in unfamiliar locales, is a pale imitation of the vibrant real coffeeshops.
                                                                            Great discussion.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: al b.

                                                                              Thanks, al b. Those were basically my points too in the first post here, but you put it more succinctly.