Coffee beans zip through pneumatic tubes on their way from the roasters to the baristas pulling shots at the espresso bar in the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle. The resemblance to Willy Wonka’s candy factory is intentional, according to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, as a way to use theatrical design to stay one step ahead in the small-batch coffee market. The challenge was to seamlessly integrate coffee roasting, a cafe, and retail into an interactive environment that introduces customers to handcrafted, exotic coffees.
Opened in December, this is the first Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room. With interior design orchestrated by Liz Muller, Starbucks vice president of creative and global design, this shop is focused on fully displaying the roasting process, educating patrons and, thus, getting them interested in the company’s small-lot Reserve coffees. The 15,000-square-foot interior includes roasting equipment and a 6,650-square-foot cafe.
Built in the 1920s as a Packard car dealership on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, the location’s original terrazzo and concrete floor and pine-plank ceiling lend the patina of time. A hand-hammered, copper cask—within which beans go to rest and de-gas after roasting—is central in the space. Exposed steel moment frames form a supporting cage around the two-story-tall cask. Light shines through perforations in the copper, casting a map of the world on the floor. Flanking the cask are two roasters, constantly rotating beans and filling the space with a gentle rain-like sound. An old-fashioned Solari board with mechanical split-flap letters—similar to one in a railroad station—click-clacks to announce the arrival of beans from numerous countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Overhead, a maze of copper tubes delivers five types of freshly roasted beans into individual glass silos at the main espresso bar in the center of the space. Baristas pull levers to dispense small amounts into waiting leather pouches before scooping them out to grind. Customers sit at the long, low teak-and-marble bar to watch the baristas, or on sleek leather couches among midcentury modern coffee tables and chairs. A steel fireplace and oversized, custom floor lamps with domed shades and copper linings add warmth. Details underscore the message that each cup of coffee is handcrafted, from the stitching on the leather handrail covers to the cutouts in the industrial-weight-felt window coverings. The bent wood slats of a balustrade leading down to a coffee tasting bar recall the Zen-garden patterns of beans raked to dry in the sun. Nearby, a library is devoted to books about coffee, with a wall of stacked burlap bags stuffed with beans, adding texture and sound absorption. A mezzanine lined with teak bookshelves overlooks the roasting operation below.
The small-batch coffees roasted at this Seattle location will be available within months in specialty Starbucks shops in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., and in more than 100 specialty locations to open worldwide in the next five years.