The 43-year history of Starbucks can be now be traced along a one-mile stretch in Seattle. It starts at the famed Pike Place Market downtown, where the company opened its first store back in 1971. Now, it ends just a 10-minute walk up the hill from that original shop.
On Friday, Starbucks will open the doors to a new 15,000 square-foot “Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room” in Capitol Hill that shows off just how far the iconic company has come.
We had a chance to tour the new location earlier this week, and it’s unlike any Starbucks you’ve ever seen — CEO Howard Schultz has referred to it as the “Willy Wonka of coffee.”
The most noticeable aspect of the place is how customers can see exactly how their cup of joe is made, from the minute it comes off the truck as green coffee beans to the moment a barista pours the liquid into a mug. There’s even a window in the bathrooms — which feature individual stalls with doors and a dedicated attendant — that lets you peer into the roasting facility.
“Most consumers can’t conceptualize what happens in the roasting process,” said Chris Smith, Manager of Global Coffee and Tea Education for Starbucks. “With this, we are unfolding the coffee story and bringing consumers closer to the process. We are marrying the manufacturing environment with the cafe environment.”
Smith is right. Within a 30-minute time span, you can see the entire bean journey as employees slice open burlap bags, move the beans from transparent chain conveyers to the roaster, and eventually shuttle them into a cooling tray following the intense heat. Minutes later, you can both see and listen to the freshly-roasted beans shooting through copper tubes above your head, and eventually dropping into gold silos at the coffee bar, ready to be ground up.
All the while, the fresh smell of roasted coffee fills the air.
“We want to highlight the heart that goes into roasting,” said Marc Wanless, a senior manufacturing operations manager for Starbucks.
Customers can have their coffee brewed in a variety of methods — Clover, pour-over, coffee press, Chemex, siphon or cold brew — or opt for specialty espresso drinks. Here’s a glimpse at the menu — you won’t find Pumpkin Lattes here — which use Starbucks’ special “Reserve” coffee beans:
There’s all kind of technology packed throughout the space, from the sensors that prevent cross contamination of coffee beans to the 4K projector that shows footage of Starbucks’ coffee farms on a smart glass window display. The two roasters are programmed to heat different types of beans at optimal amounts of time and temperature to ensure peak aroma, acidity, body, and flavor.
There’s even a 1,600-pound split-flap mechanical display like you see at the airport or train station that is controlled digitally and automatically updates what’s currently roasting.
“We wanted to create a theater of coffee,” said Andre Kim, a senior store concept designer at Starbucks.
The new location also features a full alcohol bar and a Tom Douglas Serious Pie restaurant, so folks can grab a slice of pizza and a cocktail with their coffee — though that combination might not be too popular. There’s also a “scoop bar” where you can buy whole beans, a “Coffee Library,” and a “Coffee Experience Bar,” where Starbucks will hold free seminars to educate people about the art of coffee.
The 1920s-era building, which was home to an auto showroom and later an art supplies store, will house about 40 employees who will help roast 1.4 million pounds of coffee each year.
The coffee palace is located just off Interstate 5 at 1124 Pike. It opens to the public on Friday at 7 a.m. Check out photos and video below: