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Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf founder Herbert Hyman dies

Herbert Hyman, who founded The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in the 1960s and saw the premium coffee chain grow to hundreds of stores around the world, has died in Southern California. He was 82.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Herbert Hyman, who founded The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in the 1960s and saw the premium coffee chain grow to hundreds of stores around the world, has died in Southern California. He was 82.

Hyman, who had heart problems and had been in declining health, died of natural causes on Monday at his home in Camarillo, said his daughter, Anne-Marie Hyman, a one-time CEO of the company.

Hyman was an ambitious entrepreneur who left the University of California, Los Angeles, before graduating because he had founded a successful vending machine business.

He also ran a coffee service for offices.

He and his wife, Mona, founded The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in 1963 after making several trips to her native Sweden.

"He fell in love with the European styles of coffee," which were far better quality than what was sold in the U.S. at the time, his daughter said.

"At the time, people (in the U.S.) thought of coffee as just coming out of a can," she said. "Coffee was just one kind of coffee. Nobody had the idea there were different varietals and roasting styles and different ways of making it."

The Hymans opened their first store in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles, with Hyman himself building the oak woodwork.

The store sold bags of gourmet beans by the pound that were roasted daily in the store.

"They had a sample bar," his daughter said. "They brewed every one in thermoses, and you could decide which one you would bring home."

A passionate aficionado, Hyman offered lessons in how to properly brew the coffee and even invented special drip makers and thermoses.

Clients included celebrities such as Johnny Carson, Dinah Shore and Lee Marvin, his daughter said.

Growing into a chain, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf pioneered the ice-blended coffee drink, using a hot chocolate powder and a special way of brewing a cold coffee extract that Hyman invented, his daughter said.

The ice-blended version was created by an employee who brought a blender to the store to make a diet shake and threw together the chocolate powder and coffee.

By the 1990s, cold coffee drinks and espresso had replaced regular drip coffee in popularity at the stores.

Hyman traveled to Latin America and elsewhere to source coffee and promoted the idea of paying good prices to coffee farmers, his daughter said.

"My dad was really passionate about helping people and giving back," she said.

Hyman sold the chain in 1998. Today, it has more than 900 stores in 15 states and 29 countries.

In a statement, the company offered condolences to his family.

"We continue to uphold his vision and passion for sourcing the highest quality coffee and tea from around the world, and are forever indebted to the Hyman family for starting this incredible brand and business," the company said.

In his personal life, Hyman was a "consummate entrepreneur" with a fondness for practical jokes, according to a family obituary.

As a student, "he once released live chickens inside UCLA's Powell Library, and another time enlisted friends to help deposit his professor's VW Bug at the top of the library's grand steps," according to the obituary.

Even in retirement, Hyman remained an entrepreneur.

In 2005, wanting to improve his golf game, he invented a club called Herbie's One Putt Wedge.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his brother, Martin; a sister, Edith; his wife, Mona; sons and daughters Michael, Jeffrey, Susan and Sheri, and six grandchildren.