Let’s be honest: Starbucks gets a bit of a bad rap. Once the pinnacle of cool American culture, it’s now oft-cited as the epitome of corporate deviance, with a product that’s deemed average by aficionados. So, it was with a dose of scepticism that we visited The Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Shanghai.
Opened in December 2017 and billed as, ‘a theatrical, experiential shrine to coffee passion.’ this is the world’s largest Starbucks, at 30,000 square feet, and has a lot to live up to.
It has its own roasting facility, and first impressions are reminiscent of an amusement park crossed with a scene from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. The giant roasting machines process batches of unique small-lot Reserve coffee, which is sourced from 30 different countries worldwide. The beans are then pumped through copper pipes suspended from the ceiling to Starbucks’ many coffee bars, or packed up and sent to online customers across China. Meanwhile, staff in white uniforms busy themselves with the machines, and the dynamic station-style boards display the currently-roasting blend, while tourists queue up to snap the whole process with a sense of childlike awe.
It’s pure retail theatre and it works.
The Roastery also harnesses some great new AR technology (designed by Starbucks and Alibaba Group) making it one of the most advanced digital locations for the brand, in the world. The technology helps customers personalise their experience with a digital web-app platform that also incorporates a digital menu, and can share information about the coffee bars and brewing methods, as well as unique experiences on and offline. At each stage of the journey, customers can unlock virtual badges which, once all collected, can be traded for a custom filter to share on social media.
So what about the actual product? From the reserve coffee to nitro draft lines, alcoholic drinks and new tea blends, The Roastery has it all. There are three wooden coffee bars including Starbucks’ longest ever, at 27m. The bars act as a kind of stage where hundreds of baristas handcraft the coffee using one of six brewing methods: ModBar Pour Over, Chemex, Coffee Press, Siphon, Espresso and the proprietary Clover-brewed coffee.
We opted for a Coffee Flight which promised the same bean brewed three different ways. And we have to report that it was good. Very good.
We sipped it down with a cake but we could have chosen anything from the high-end menu of savoury and sweets – the menu has been designed by acclaimed artisan baker Rocco Princi and is crafted by his team of more than 30 skilled bakers and chefs.
In true cultural style, we exited through the gift shop laden with branded and unbranded coffee accessories, hessian sacks and bags. After picking up a couple of gifts we left feeling buzzy and excitable, and not just because of the caffeine. Starbucks has excelled itself with this truly groundbreaking retail experience, and we duly doff our branded gift-shop caps.