Friday, August 31, 2007


Mr. Alfred Peet 1920-2007

I know I am not alone in saying that one of the reasons I can make a living in the coffee business is due to Mr. Alfred Peet. The transformation of coffee in America from a super market loss leader to a prized specialty beverage can be traced to a handful of individuals, none of whom would be any more important or influential than Mr. Peet.

There are many stories about him that are legendary, about his living through the Nazi occupation in Holland, about his being sent by his father to work on a competitor’s tea plantation in Indonesia (His preference, he once told me, was, far and away tea. He liked to say “coffee is a combat boot, tea is a ballerina slipper”), and about his arriving nearly penniless in San Francisco and managing to land a job with a Front Street coffee broker.

But when he moved to Berkeley and opened Peet’s Coffee and Tea in 1966, he began a movement which would slowly accelerate into a massive world-wide change in consumer behavior. I remember a day we visited him at his first store. It was a ninety degree Tuesday afternoon in 1978 and there was a line of customers stretching from his front door down Vine Street. This was a time when coffee consumption and awareness nationally was at its nadir; there may have been three or four “expresso” machines in the whole East Bay. He looked at the line and said “there could be one of these on every corner”. It is not an exaggeration to recognize Alfred Peet as one of the founding fathers of the specialty coffee business.

Alfred had a gruff exterior, one that was up front and openly indicated little tolerance for fools, especially when it came to his expertise in coffee and tea. When Alfred had his coffee buying hat on, he treated you like he was Chuck Berry and you were a musician showing up to audition for his band; you either knew how to play, or you hit the highway. As a rookie in the coffee business, it was a little nerve-wracking walking into his office and knowing there was a good chance you could be exposed as a pretender and sent on your way. But he was fair, and he was almost always right.

He did not give you his respect, you had to earn it. I suppose this was from his upbringing. But later when he complimented the work we did at Royal, it was so gratifying because it was real and resulted from dues having been paid.

As I got to know Alfred a little better, I came to know what an interesting man he was and that he had a wide variety of interest outside of coffee; riding his bike every week through the Napa Valley, taking off on yak caravans in Mongolia, and traveling to other far flung exotic locales around the world.

I learned from Alfred what quality was. I learned what a coffee professional was. I know that some of what made Alfred Peet the consummate coffee man has rubbed off on us and contributes to the way we are at Royal. Some of the younger folks here never had the opportunity to go up against Alfred, but I wish they had; it would make them even better.


Alfred, it’s the week before Labor Day and the Indonesian crop, in which you are expert, is just getting underway, the pre-shipment samples are on the table…
We are going to miss your visits to our cupping room, even if you still did make me a bit nervous. I wish you were here to tell it like it is.

Goodbye and happy trails Mr. Peet.
R. Fulmer

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Selamat Pagi Amerika

We trust you have sufficient supplies of Central American and African coffee to last until February or March?
In some cases that is quite a lot to carry, and in some cases it need not be all that much because blends are shifted according to the season, and featured single origin varietals are switched.
Every September we like to mention the origins whose production takes place during our North American Fall.
Mainly we are talking about Asia; this is the best time to focus on New Guinea, Indonesia, Timor, and India. Of course Peru and Bolivia are in prime time too, so they are popular options as well.
Here is some conventional wisdom and a few suggestions about some of these fall coffees:

New Guinea---There are really not many coffees available which can replace super high acid Kenyan and delicately floral washed Ethiopians. But if you want to get reasonably close, the best bet is with New Guinea. Of all alternatives available, New Guinea is going to be the brightest, most acidic, and hardest high grown coffee available. Currently, we have a good supply of Kimel Estate A, X and PB.

Peru, Bolivia & Colombia---Caramel sweetness and brightness found in real good Centrals is not easy to duplicate, but some nice alternatives in the same flavor neighborhood can be had with Peru, Bolivia, and good Colombian Cauca and fly crop Huilas. These coffees are fresh and sweet. Their acidity is usually a little softer than found in New Guinea, but these are great coffees to have on hand this time of the year. We have a solid selection of Peru rolling in; conventional, FTO, and organic.
Bolivia, when it’s on, is great. CENAPROC is a Coop that has provided us with some great coffees, sometimes not in the timeliest manner, but often worth the stressful wait. This is a short window, so if you want to feature any Bolivian coffee, line it up now.

Indonesia---You may recall from this year's Indonesian newsletter about our efforts in Flores. Flores is well on its way to being established as a specialty origin and roasters are asking about it in advance. We have some booked and are anxiously waiting to see what the coffee looks like this year. The Flores Bajawa is fully washed. It is full bodied with soft medium-level acidity. We expect to see it arrive late September early October.

After our visit to Bali, we told the Kintamani farmers we would buy their coffee if they showed us something we liked. In past years we had only been offered expensive fully washed coffee that we thought was pretty mediocre. If there is a stereotypical national trait for Indonesians, it is that they seem to never stop trying, they never give up, especially when it involves selling. The Balinese farmers have demonstrated this persistence and creativity with their new Bali Blue Moon coffee. They have switched to a wet hulled process and as a result, have produced a coffee which we feel is in the same league as good Sulawesi and Sumatra. And, their asking price is not unrealistic. The pre-shipment enticed us into owning our first container. We are very happy at long last to offer coffee from Bali, still one of or favorite places.

Sulawesi—soon we will see our arrivals of this year’s Toraja G-1. Again, this is the time to be shopping. We usually see the good ones disappear by December.

Java Estate---despite being relatively high priced, it is still a fine, unique coffee and remains a customer favorite. New crop Estate deliveries will begin leaving Java late September and really pick up in October and November.

Sumatra—the main crop gets started in late September and October, and then really expands in November and December. Our G-1 Mandheling new crop are readily available and can be booked and priced daily. For further specialization, the RETRO will be back in November, and we have Tabu Jamu 100% Sidikalang available for a September ship.

This is the monsoon season in India, green arabica Malabar coffees are being transformed in the wet humidity. Until the newly monsooned shows up, we have a Monsooned Java arabica on the spot which is getting good reviews from fans of this sort of thing.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


King Harvest Will Surely Come?

We are at a crossroads. On the low road there is a potential record breaking crop projected for Brazil next summer.
On the high road, there has been a possible “false spring”; a doomed flowering initiated by early unseasonable heavy rains in Brazil. By almost everyone’s account, it is way too early to try and quantify the effects of this premature flowering on the next crop. If the flowers that have now appeared do not set and develop into beans, the crop next year will certainly be reduced. By how much? Who knows?
There is always an effort to sway the market one way or the other at this time of the year based on rainfall and the coffee flowering in Brazil. But this year the question looms larger because it is possible we are headed either into a big surplus or significant shortfall situation, totally dependent on the next Brazil crop.
Then again, with coffee now lumped into a basket of fund activities, and money flying all about at the whim of the managing puppet masters, it pretty hard to get a feel for where prices should be, regardless of what we think we know.

Given the current uncertainty and undefined future, we usually recommend that it is better to be 10 cents wrong than to try and be perfect. The C market has been recently as low as 1.09, but has rallied to 1.20, and today, dropped 7 cents back to 1.12! The stock market went down 300 points in one day and then recovered the same day to close up! Did money leave commodities to buy stocks?
Trying to predict coffee prices is a crap shoot…
But with regard to real coffee beans, we do know a few fundamentals. For instance,
Centrals are winding down and most of the good ones we have cannot be replaced until next spring. Now ‘til December the supply will gradually diminish. What sells first? The best and the cheapest. “After the best is gone, the best is left”.
To be a little bit wrong right now, and fill in some needs is probably a prudent thing to do. If the market does go lower, look to buy for the first 3-6 months of 2008.

Here are some of our current recommendations to buy now:

New crop Sulawesi…Sep to Dec shipments will be the main window
New crop Flores…limited supply on this new emerging specialty coffee.
Good Colombians, on the spot, or nearby…..The main harvest will start to flow into the market in Dec and Jan…. We have a long way to go.
Any Centrals….now is the time to cover Sep-Jan.
New crop New Guinea & Peru…..bright fresh coffee to pick up the blends.And, any coffees that are hedged….buy on the dips.

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