On Reflection: A Double Tall Experience

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Three weeks before Christmas, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room opened at the corner of Pike and Minor in a repurposed 1920s auto-row building on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, offering a multipurpose experience dramatically different from the customary wait-in-line Starbucks procedure.

An open-concept design invites transparency and encourages the curious. Visitors can see the roasting process, watch beans being bagged and moved along a conveyor belt, and follow fresh beans as they move through copper pipes that soar along the ceiling in a shape that resembles latte art. It’s one of many new concepts critical to Starbucks’ long-term strategy to create products that transform public opinion from one of coffee as a daily necessity to coffee as a luxurious indulgence, like wine or French perfume.

One cannot order a pumpkin spice or eggnog latte at the Roastery’s café bar. In fact, typical Starbucks libations don’t appear on the menu at all. Instead, the high-end Reserve line of coffees dominates the list of options. Visitors are encouraged to linger, speak with working coffee masters, describe their preferences, learn about coffee-making methods and try out a few samples. It’s the only location in the world that roasts Starbucks’ Reserve line, whose various roasts generally sell for $14 a half-pound.

It also has pizza. Tom Douglas’ third Serious Pie occupies a corner of the 15,000-square-foot, tri-level ode to java.
The Roastery “honors the integrity of the journey” from bean to mug, celebrating farmers from around the world while also highlighting local artisans and their crafts, such as Seattle’s own Glassybaby and 5 Lines Pottery, both of which designed drinkware for the Roastery.

Every Steampunk-ish detail of the operation tips its hat to a facet of the coffee industry. “We really want to geek out on coffee,” says lead designer Andre Kim Sr. His passion for the project is evident in many of the store’s details. Five bean silos — Kim calls them “gems” — adorn the café bar, and a train station-style timetable overhead, nicknamed “the Clacker,” updates the day’s retail offerings in real time.

Make no mistake. The Roastery is as far from the original Starbucks in Pike Place Market as royalty is from the Kardashians. One media outlet calls the Roastery “a palace.” Another touts it as “the future of Starbucks.” Howard Schultz, chairman, president and CEO of Starbucks, considers it a Willy Wonka-style sensory experience: “Everything we’ve ever done,” he says proudly, “has led us to this point.” 

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