Category Archives: Seattle

Buzz: Starbucks Unveils High-End Roastery-Tasting Room Concept 

 

Starbucks Reserve.

Using a barrage of adjectives like super-premium, unique, reserve and small-lot, Starbucks has just announced details regarding its new “premium coffee experience” store concept, as well as its flagship “small-batch” Roastery and Tasting Room, coming to Seattle’s Capitol Hill this winter.

The company says the new roastery will be a kind of interactive coffee museum and tasting room designed to showcase the company’s “small-lot” Reserve line of coffees. It will also be the flagship for Starbucks’ new store model, which will occupy some 100 locations in strategic markets throughout the globe over the next five years.

(related: Starbucks Piloting Mobile Trucks at Three U.S. College Campuses)

Adjectives abound, but if one phrase is an elephant in this particular room, it is “Third Wave,” one many around the high-end retail industry, including this blog, has avoided using for years. But it seems particularly apt here, as the company that embodies “Second Wave”-ness rolls out its new high-end, coffee-quality-focused brand.

Starbucks itself describes the new store concept as is a kind of higher rung in “customer experience segmentation,” part of the company’s retail “evolution.” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz went so far as to describe the new roastery and tasting room as something that will revolutionize all of specialty coffee.

(related: Drama Unfolds with the Opening of Williamsburg’s First Starbucks)

“Everything we have created and learned about coffee has led us to this moment,” he said. “The Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting room is a multi-sensory experience that will transform the future of specialty coffee. We plan to take this super premium experience to cities around the world, elevating the Starbucks experience not only through these stores but across our entire business.”

Here’s more from Starbucks on the new Seattle roastery:

A first-of-its-kind union for Starbucks of coffee theatre and manufacturing, this iconic Seattle destination will allow Starbucks to double its small-batch roasting capacity and grow its Starbucks Reserve® coffee presence from 800 to 1,500 stores worldwide, by the end of FY15. More than two years in development, this unprecedented experience will allow customers to engage with Starbucks passion for coffee in a 15,000 square-foot interactive retail environment devoted to beverage innovation and excellence.

In addition to the approximately 100 new premium stores, Starbucks is also unveiling new smaller-footprint and drive-through “Express” store models, where there will be a focus on quick service and developing Starbucks’ mobile ordering platform. These stores, the company says, will “address the increase in urbanization and decentralization of retail.”

(related: Cupping at Starbucks: The Sound of Silence (and Slurps)

Including its traditional retail stores, its premium stores and its express stores, Starbucks is on track to open some 1,550 outlets globally in 2014, and plans to open 1,600 in 2015, including 300 net new locations in the U.S.

Source: Daily Coffee News, http://dailycoffeenews.com/2014/09/05/starbucks-unveils-new-dont-call-it-third-wave-concept-plans-seattle-roastery-opening/

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Buzz: Otherside of the ’15th Avenue Coffee and Tea’ Coin

Just because I think both the detractors (read: haters) and the supporters of the newish Starbucks move to test the higher end specialty coffee waters have made some very salient points with regard to the changing dynamics of the specialty coffee industry.

  • Starbucks MUST be respected for its sheer ability to throw money and professional marketing at any scheme that they arrange.
  • The hipster coffee house vibe — that many of the places that are charging $20 a pound for fresh roasted coffee from reputable outfits like Blue Bottle, Ritual, Novo, Intelligentsia and Counter Culture — does not appear to be something that the Starbucks corporate people will ever be able to roll-out on a large scale.
  • What it does appear Starbucks’ wants is to leverage its sheer advantage in liquidity (read: lots of $$$) and marketing to increase their share of a market that is a sub-sector of their core industry.  As a major buyer of green coffee all over the world it seems logical that they would leverage the best of their strategic relationships to promote higher premiums, no?  It makes perfect business sense and the following article gives a more balanced look at the non-hater side of the the 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea story.

Source: Tamp Tamp Blog

Coffee Menu Sandwich sign

We finally made it to see the new 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea (”Inspired by Starbucks” as it says on the door) on Capitol Hill in Seattle. After all the specialty coffee hubbub, pressand dramaover what this means, and after reading the considerably dramatic yelp reviews, we had to see it for ourselves. It puts an interesting question out there – can Starbucks make a better Starbucks?

In New York, when we first heard about it, we were skeptical. When we think of Starbucks, we picture the lines of caffeine deprived junkies queued up by the dozen, packed into a place pumping out big milky drinks by the gallon, with rarely a smile on any face – customer or barista. Like most situations in New York, the stakes are higher, and the throngs battle it out to make it out with their drink. Does it taste like coffee? Perhaps, but what’s most important is that you made it out with something hot and you’re still alive.

Starbucks Coffee

This is the line at the original Starbucks retail location at Pike Place Market, downtown Seattle. This location used to be a fine purveyor of coffee beans only; now it looks a lot like an everyday Manhattan retail location (read: packed and stressful).

Starbucks’ reputation in New York is bad. And for people who’ve only known that big, corporate, bad-tasting, fast food retail-y experience, I don’t blame them. But as a Seattleite that grew up alongside the explosive growth of the company, I always speak positively of my very first experiences getting lattes at (where else?) Starbucks. And it was good. Our whole industry, and certainly my company, would be much less significant (even nonexistent) if Starbucks hadn’t tapped the consumer demand and opened the floodgates.

But still, there’s no denying that Starbucks lately has fallen on hard times. The coffee just hasn’t been that good, the shops are kind of dumpy, all Starbucks’ seem to have an unpleasant smell (what is the deal with that smell?). I hadn’t had coffee from Starbucks (with the exception of a Clover coffee last year) in several years. Why bother, when there are independent places, with great coffee, and great service (you can visit our tour if you need tips) right around the corners from many a Starbucks in NYC?

On the other hand, there are a lot of independent cafes that rest happily with the knowledge that they’re not Starbucks. But are they good? Well, no, not really. The coffee is ok, maybe some of the baristas are nice, and the atmosphere is decent. By and large, these cafes provide a sub-par experience. As consultants, we run into this mentality all the time, and are constantly checking that clients begin providing a much higher standard of service, and of course, most importantly, are providing the best possible product. There is simply no way that being “not Starbucks” is anything more than a lie owner/managers use to tell themselves they are doing a good job in their cafes. Most very high end cafes think of Starbucks as completely irrelevant – and while I think there are some great aspects of Starbucks (they’ve got independents trounced when it comes to retail and merchandising, for example, and it’s worth watching them for that), I generally tend to agree with the high end independents.

So when we walked into 15th Avenue Coffee on Capitol Hill, steps away from Victrola, we were keeping all of our standards as high as we do at any shop we visit. What’s the atmosphere like? Are we greeted right away? Are the chairs comfortable and are there multiple types of seating? Can we see this space being multi-functional, serving a lot of customers from various backgrounds? And of course, how is the product?

Macchiato refurbished Linea

We were greeted cordially and were provided with some suggestions about what to try. I had a macchiato, and Neil got a Costa Rican coffee. We were served in porcelain cups. The latte art on my coffee was lovely. And most importantly, the coffee tasted pretty good. Maybe not the most unbelievable, delicious coffee in the world, but certainly pleasant and drinkable, and considerably better than many independent cafes in Seattle. I’m fairly certain that most coffee consumers wouldn’t see a discernible difference when picking between 15th Ave and Victrola in terms of cup quality. In New York, this shop could make a killing.

From the back

Does that mean that Victrola needs to look out? It’s doubtful. Victrola has a strong customer base and has been making great coffee for years. In fact, my theory is that Starbucks moved to that location to test the waters in a very tough location for them, just steps away from a high-end independent. In this spot Starbucks is definitely going to see if it’s possible for them to reclaim their glory as a high-end, products focused business. I think that for quality focused independents, this new incarnation will only increase awareness and bring in more customers, especially if they launch cafes in cafe-deprived areas.

Patio

What about other, smaller, less quality-focused cafes? Should they be concerned? Absolutely — if you’re using Starbucks as your measuring stick. Those cafes are in trouble anyway, they just haven’t seen someone come along to challenge them yet. But look out, everybody. Here comes a company that means business and wants to reclaim what it has lost.

Buzz: Nicholas Cho on Starbucks New Strategy

July 26, 2009: Washington Post

Your Local Coffee Shop,
Courtesy of Starbucks?

Coffee used to be about consumption. It wasn’t supposed to taste very good and was often freeze-dried. I remember my introduction to the beverage that would become my livelihood: My parents laughed as I gagged on the bitter swill. This was the first wave of coffee.

Recently, coffee became more about enjoyment. Make me a cappuccino! I want it blended up with some ice! I love it with an extra pump of vanilla! No longer do we put up with bad-tasting coffee. In fact, coffee doesn’t even have to taste like coffee at all. This is America! I’m entitled to something yummy! That was the second wave.

Now we’re seeing the development of a third wave — a shift that my colleagues in the specialty-coffee industry have helped nurture. Much like wine appreciation or music appreciation, third-wave coffee isn’t just about pleasure. Coffee enthusiasts are taking the time to understand what goes into a truly great cup, researching everything from where beans are grown to proper brewing. This is the wave that I rode at Murky Coffee, which I ran for seven years, and that I’ll follow at the new place I’m helping open this week in Washington, Chinatown Coffee Company.

But now the waters are getting a little choppy.

The big green mermaid wants some of the third-wave action. On Friday, Starbucks opened a store in Seattle that’s not what you’re used to seeing on, say, every other block of most U.S. cities. It’s called “15th Ave. Coffee & Tea, Inspired by Starbucks,” and it’s apparently part of the company’s effort to refresh the brand. The plan is to offer the independent coffee-bar experience: better coffee, more knowledgeable baristas and a more refined cafe environment.

In other words, they’re encroaching on my turf.

In what has become legend in Seattle, about 10 dark-suited executive types clutching logo-emblazoned notebooks went on a series of research trips to some successful independent coffee bars in the city, including Victrola Coffee Roasters. The barista trainer there, a friend of mine, told me that one of the baristas grilled the visitors until they confessed their mission: to take notes on the cafe’s vibe. Another barista supposedly got sick of seeing his every move discussed and notated. He leapt toward the corporate spies, jumping up and down while exclaiming, “Dance, monkey! Dance!”

I wonder if they wrote that down.

I actually wish them the best. Maybe Starbucks will return to being about coffee instead of about milkshakes, breakfast sandwiches and Sheryl Crow CDs.

This might seem strange coming from me; I am an independent coffee retailer, after all. Last year I received a bit of attention when my Capitol Hill shop was closed because of tax problems, and later when a customer at my Arlington cafe flew off the handle because he didn’t like our policy of not serving espresso over ice. Bloggers began debating whether the customer truly is always right, the sort of policy that’s more common at corporate chains.

So some people might assume that I’d poo-poo Starbucks’s efforts. Everyone expects the proverbial little guy to sling stones at the big guy, as if doing anything else would be un-American.

But if Starbucks brings one of these new concepts to Washington, I’ll be among the first in line. To me, Starbucks is only a problem if the quality of their coffee gets worse, and this new spinoff might help it get better. (If they want to compete with the likes of Victrola and other great third-wave coffee bars, it’s going to have to get a lot better.)

I hope the coffee wars help nudge the caliber of all coffee upward. Just because you’re not a corporate behemoth doesn’t mean you serve delicious brew. The dirty little secret of most independent coffee shops is that they don’t know how or don’t care to serve high-quality coffee. They believe that furnishing their shops with comfy chairs and knowing the names of their customers’ dogs is all that matters. What’s arguably worse is that some of the most highly respected chefs in the country are serving some truly awful coffee. Apparently great coffee doesn’t help get you a show on the Food Network.

My customers tell me that, aside from the coffee, what makes a great coffee shop experience is the authenticity, which is one of those you-know-it-when-you-see-it things. How can you manufacture authenticity? That’s the problem that has plagued Starbucks for years, and I don’t know if this latest project will help them figure it out.

Still, I really do wish them the best. After all their research, we’ll see if what should actually be called “Inspired by Dancing Monkeys” is another success for the mermaid.

nick@murkycoffee.com

Nicholas Cho is the former owner of Murky Coffee and the chairman of the United States Barista Championship.