LOS ANGELES — In 1968, decades before “latte” and “barista” became everyday terms, Herbert Hyman and his wife, Mona, opened a small store in the tony Los Angeles district of Brentwood to sell coffee — not the tasteless grounds of uncertain provenance that supermarkets sold by the can, but whole beans in one-pound bags that came from places such as Costa Rica, Colombia and Kenya.

Customers at the store Hyman called Coffee Bean could smell the beans in a roaster, observe the particular way they were brewed and then sample different varieties before deciding which ones to buy. Before long, the beverage part of the business took over and modern coffee culture took off.


Along with Alfred H. Peet, the Dutch connoisseur who founded Peet’s Coffee and Tea Inc., Hyman was instrumental in fueling America’s rage for gourmet coffee – a movement that would spawn juggernaut Starbucks and the legion of smaller outfits dotting nearly every neighborhood across the country.

Hyman, who transformed his business into the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf chain, which now has more than 900 locations in 29 countries, died April 28 at his home in Camarillo, Calif. He was 82 and had heart disease, said his daughter, Anne-Marie Hyman.

He did not have the name recognition that Peet had with his eponymous brand; he is not even mentioned in some recent books about coffee mania. But Hyman was a “grandfather of specialty coffee in the U.S.,” said Jim Stewart, who started Seattle’s Best Coffee after learning to roast at the original Coffee Bean. “His standards were just unyielding. He was so very particular about coffee.”

In the late 1960s “coffee was only in cans,” said Steve Aronson, a 40-year veteran of the coffee trade who runs Cafe Britt, a specialty roaster in Costa Rica, Colombia and Peru. He was “one of the first people to market coffee as coming from some place.”


Years before the drumbeat for direct trade and fair trade began, Hyman was an advocate for coffee growers and exporters. Instead of looking for the cheapest beans as the multinational companies did, he paid higher prices to help keep his suppliers in business.