Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 24, 2017

Brewing fans one cup at a time

Coffee house’s small-batch roasting methods are winning over coffee drinkers in Chattanooga

A pair of “Peetniks” try the Undertow. - Photograph by David Laprad

Nathan Brown is more than ready for his first coffee of the day. After attending spin class at Sports Barn, he beat a path to Peet’s Coffee & Tea on Chestnut Street, where the smell of freshly brewed grounds welcomed him as he entered the trendy new coffee house.

The sun isn’t up yet but Brown’s senses are alive with anticipation as he stands in line behind the other morning warriors and “Peetniks” who have made Peet’s a regular stop since it opened in Chattanooga last October.

Brown is a proud coffee drinker. He even has his own stash of beans at Keller Williams Greater Downtown Realty, where he serves as team leader. His other stops for high-grade brew include Revelator, where he can be found working many weekday afternoons, and Camp House. Brown also admits to circling through Starbucks drive-thru to get a quick fix if he’s on Gunbarrel Road.

“I drink coffee for one of two reasons,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s for the caffeine. Many times, it’s just part of slowing down for a moment.”

As the team leader at Keller Williams Downtown, Brown has a lot on his plate. From attracting new agents, to holding on to the ones he has (more than 250), to ensuring profitability (KW’s downtown agents sold over $700 million worth of real estate in 2016), his to-do list is even taller than his six-foot-two-inch frame. So he appreciates both the boost coffee provides as well as those moments when he presses the pause button on his work day.

Brown has had a special place in his heart for Peet’s since his first sip in Portland, Oregon, where he and his wife and kids lived from 2012-2015. A Cleveland, Tennessee native, Brown wasn’t even a coffee drinker until he moved to the Northwestern U.S., where haute coffee houses populate every street corner and many of the spaces in-between.

“There were three Starbucks within walking distance of my office. But there was a Peet’s nearby, too,” he says. “I went there at the invitation of friends. I really liked it.”

Brown says his taste buds were drawn to the quality of Peet’s beans, which are grown in such flavor infusing environs as a volcanic slope in Guatemala, where the plants soak up the rays of the morning sun as well as the rich nutrients in the soil. He also says he believes the small-batch roasting methods Peet’s uses at its well-seasoned California facility contribute to the superior taste of the chain’s coffee.

“I like the flavor and the acidity,” Brown adds. “It tastes like people have labored over my cup of coffee.”

Brown is at Peet’s to purchase a simple cup of brew. But if he wanted something more elaborate, he could go in that direction, too.

Peet’s offers a variety of hot and cold-brewed coffee and espresso beverages, blended refreshments, teas and other libations. From the Traditional Cappuccino, to the Caramel Caffè Latte, to the over 30 other offerings with names ending in “macchiato,” “mocha” or “espresso,” Peet’s is all about variety.

One of the customers in front of Brown orders a Black Tie, which consists of sweetened condensed milk, cold brew iced coffee, chicory-infused simple syrup and a float of half and half.

Another man orders an Undertow, which offers a balance between rich, hand-pulled Peet’s Espresso Forte, natural Madagascar vanilla syrup and cold, creamy half & half.

At a table-for-two, one woman drinks a steaming cup of Might Leaf Wild Berry Hibiscus tea with a drizzle of raspberry syrup. Her friend is enjoying a cup of Might Leaf African Nectar tea with honey.

Although everyone has a different beverage, they share one thing in common: tranquility. Brown says the low-key atmosphere and spacious seating area at Peet’s lends itself to relaxation –something that can be missing at a packed coffee house.

“Peet’s doesn’t have a drive through and people aren’t being ushered in and out like a factory line. They walk in and hang out,” Brown explains. “You can come in, slow down and have a cup of coffee. Very few chains provide that.”

Some people think the word “chain” is a four-letter word, but it isn’t. Instead, Peet’s has the kind of small-shop history that allows people to feel intimately connected to its coffees.

Peet’s was founded by its namesake, Alfred Peet, a Dutch immigrant who worked in the coffee trade before moving to San Francisco after World War II.

In her article titled, “Peet’s Wants Customers to Know That Coffee Can Change Lives,” author Mary Mazzoni said Peet was appalled by the “low-grade mud” Americans were drinking in the late ‘60s, so he opened his first coffee shop in Berkeley, California. The idea spread like wildfire, and today, there are Peet’s in nine states plus Washington, D.C.

There almost wasn’t a Peet’s in Chattanooga, though. But Byron DeFoor – office, hotel, restaurant and nursing home developer extraordinaire – had enough pull to make it happen.

Byron became a fan of Peet’s while living in Arizona and traveling the western states on business. When he moved to the Scenic City, he wanted to bring his favorite coffee with him. Peet’s, however, was reluctant to expand into the area.

Byron and his brother, Ken, had purchased the Gold Building at the corner of Pine Street and

M. L. King Boulevard, among other adjacent properties, and were turning the area into an entertainment and retail complex complete with a luxury hotel.

Byron shared his vision with the owners of Peet’s, who agreed to sell him a franchise. Chattanooga’s Peet’s opened last October to accolades that have only grown as more coffee lovers have discovered its brews.

After making his purchase, Brown takes a seat, places his notebook to the side and wraps his hands around the warm cup. He breathes in the rich aroma as part of a pre-sip ritual and then takes his first drink of the morning. The pleasure of it causes a smile to spread across his face.

“The first cup of the day has to be good,” he points out. “This is really good.”

Peet’s is located on Chestnut Street, close to M.L. King Boulevard. The coffee shop is open weekdays from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. and weekends from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, visit www.peets.com.