Coffee, tea & sympathy

For someone who downs shots of coffee all day, Erica Hess is not overcome by the shakes as she pours a thick stream of mud out of a French press. Her speech is not accelerated as she describes growing, brewing and grinding beans. There are no indications that an irregularly beating heart muscle will burst out of her apron.

Hess is the coffee educator with Peet’s Coffee & Tea, and I am her lone student for a cupping demonstration because I want to understand the unique care her company takes in selecting, roasting and blending the perfect beans. I yearn to march through the story of the late Alfred Peet, who grew up in the coffee business in the Netherlands, perfected his trade in Europe and Indonesia and then moved to the Bay Area to open his first coffeehouse at Walnut and Vine in Berkeley, where his operation influenced none other than the founders of Starbucks, who … um …

Who the hell am I kidding? I’m here because a Peet’s just opened across the street from my office, they invited my newspaper over and I jumped at the offer because java is the only cure for my system-wide 4 p.m. crash.

My name is Matt and I am a whore for free coffee.

Before HIV, Just Say No, Linda Ronstadt’s collapsed nose, Richard Pryor catching on fire and needing a flippin’ prescription for pot, I lived in a carefree land where I could eat, smoke, snort, shoot up or anally insert anything that made me feel better. It was acceptable in those days because everyone understood mind-altering substances were the only things that made prog rock tolerable.

Diseases like AIDS, Nancy Reagan and unplanned pregnancies changed everything. A nation sobered up real quick. Denizens of AA meetings already knew the powers of the black elixir, but it would take the gourmet-coffee explosion to make the rest of us turn on, tune in and drip out to America’s new addiction.

Peet’s is no Medellin. Hess is no throwback to those ’70s drug dealers who cruised my street in psychedelically painted ice-cream trucks, gladly accepting greenbacks with a hearty “Far out, man.” A pound of Colombia Supremo remains a helluva lot cheaper than a pound of supremo Colombian.

But the new Peet’s at 20th and J is luring a steady client base by giving out free coffee beans with each purchase Fridays through February 8. Complimentary cups of coffee and tea are being served Saturdays through February 9. The new Peet’s at 37th and J streets will welcome itself to that ’hood the same way throughout February. It’s all part of Peet’s grand Northern California expansion. Yippee!

Now where’s a tow-truck driver I can blow for my $4 latte?