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Cool Beans

Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle takes the journey of the coffee bean seriously




On a chilly, gray February morning in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, groups of people stood at the corner of Melrose Avenue and Pike Street snapping pictures. This once-gritty, artsy area – just up the hill from downtown – has seen a recent surge in high-end residential and commercial development, but it’s not typically a site for out-of-towner photo-ops. That is, until now.

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room opened this past December at that very corner in a historic 1920s auto row building, formerly occupied by an art supply store. After restoring its façade, making the required seismic upgrades and salvaging a number of the building’s original materials, including wood from the ceiling and portions of the terrazzo and concrete floor, the Seattle-based coffee chain presented its first-ever 15,000-square-foot facility devoted to coffee education, dining and retail. The creation of the brand’s first Roastery is part of the company’s move to expand the reach of its rare “Reserve” coffees and deliver a unique, immersive roasting experience.

“[The store] is the Willy Wonka of coffee,” says Liz Muller, vp of creative and global design for Starbucks. “We wanted to expose the love we have for what we do every day and create a stage for our partners, farmers and roasters to connect with our customers.”

Designers were presented the task of conceiving a space that could accommodate the massive roasting equipment and large quantities of beans that arrive in burlap bags to be roasted in full view of the customer, while simultaneously serving as a place where people could relax and enjoy themselves.

To avoid “a noisy, unattractive manufacturing plant” feel, Muller and her team opted for a warm, coffee-inspired palette of browns and creams with copper accents that matched flecks in the building’s original terrazzo floor. Chocolate-hued, organic felt curtains stitched with copper wire mimic stitching styles on bean bags and add a touch of softness to the building’s expansive windows. A double-sided fireplace beckons through the glass entry vestibule creating a homey feel. Although the store hums with activity, the floorplan is uncluttered and comfortable with low-slung seating for customers to unwind with a freshly brewed cup of joe. Open sightlines provide unobstructed views of the entire roasting process from any vantage point.

Multiple times per day, Starbucks master roasters initiate the theatrical roasting ritual using a software system that controls the entire process, Muller explains. Raw, green coffee beans travel through pipes along the ceiling into one of two roasters, where they’ll eventually become a deep shade of brown. Transparent sections of the pipes – a unique feature for this type of machinery – allow customers to see the beans travel from one roaster to the other. Once roasted, cooled and degassed – a process that can take up to eight days – beans whiz overhead through additional pipes and rain down into copper silos above the upper-level coffee bar, where a barista will scoop them from a leather pouch to be ground and served at the café.


Down a set of stairs, accompanied by an undulating wood balustrade that symbolizes the patterns raked into harvested beans, is additional seating and a second coffee bar where baristas give brewing demos, hold seminars and pour coffee flights for customers who aren’t pressed for time. “Each angle of the Roastery had to be inspirational, not only from touch and feel, but also from discoveries,” Muller says. “It’s so interesting to see customers come back many times and truly discover and learn new things and make this an extension of their lives.” 



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HOW CAN WE EMPOWER and inspire senior leaders to see design as an investment for future retail growth? This session, led by retail design expert Ian Johnston from Quinine Design, explores how physical stores remain unmatched in the ability to build trust, faith, and loyalty with your customers, ultimately driving shareholder value.

Presented by:
Ian Johnston
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