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Old coffee museum might have to make way for baseball

Old coffee museum might have to make way for baseball

September 17, 2010 8:27:54 PM PDT
For those who work and shop along the waterfront at Jack London Square in Oakland, a change could be coming -- one involving coffee. However, people usually don't like change when it comes to their coffee. It also involves something else people are passionate about -- baseball.

The work always seems to be in perpetual motion at "Produce Row" along Third Street in Oakland where imports, exports, traditions, and histories take place. But if you read the headlines these days, that read, "Where will the A's play?" it may also be a neighborhood in transition.

"I could not see a ballpark here, but that is my personal opinion," said George Vukasen, Jr.

Vukasen spoke like a man with 85 employees and legions of loyal customers.

"Even if they're ordering five different coffee drinks, I am willing to stand in line," says Sonja Vukassan.

Peerless Coffee is a three-generation family business. George Vukasan Sr. works in the same office as his wife Sonja. Their kids are in it too from George Jr., the president, to his sister Kristin's who oversees finances.

The site of all of them doing this in Oakland would please John Vukasen, a Yugoslavian immigrant who founded the company in 1924.

"Peerless. He wanted to be the best coffee," says Sonja.

Even after all these years, the place is full of surprises. In the back, Sonja has assembled one of the Bay Area's more obscure, but complete museums. It all about coffee and this company is stocked with items small and large.

"It is in mint, 1922 condition," says Sonja.

But as interesting as Sonja's coffee museum is on its own, there is another one -- an active, working museum a few feet away.

Just like the rest of the neighborhood, it is a busy place. Making coffee begins with big bags of coffee from all around the world. They are stacked from floor to ceiling in bins and barrels. This is no Folgers or Starbucks.

"In terms of the coffee world, we're small," says George Jr.

But the flavor isn't small, many call it, "Supurb, aromatic."

It's specialty stuff, chock full of family secrets. For instance, bet you didn't know that coffee beans need to cool completely within two minutes of roasting. Then, they're sealed in bags as they're still venting. That's why coffee bags have little pressure valves.

"You have to have a way for the gases to leave the packaging. Otherwise we'd show up tomorrow and we'd have blown up bags and beans everywhere," says George Jr.

And against this busy backdrop, there is a looming dilemma -- a possible trade of beans for baseball.

"I think a tradition can move. Sure. It's just not easy," said George Jr.

When the Vukasan's built this company, they did it a taste at a time, a generation at a time. They're living proof that, in the coffee business at least, a family that cups and works together, stays together. But here...who knows.


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