To double-down on yesterday’s post about Starbuck’s deep pockets and their ability to build remarkable cafés—I present to you Starbucks: The Bank. Europe’s new flagship store will open this weekend in Amsterdam on the heavily trafficked Rembrandtplein. This giant new location will feature a bakery and “coffee laboratory” and was built inside the renovated vault of a historic bank.
The Bank has replaced the now-standard super-automatics with throwback La Marzocco Lineas and there will be a “Slow Coffee Theater” which will focus on brewing Starbucks small-batch reserve coffees with undisclosed “slow” methods. This will also be Starbuck’s first European location with a Clover system, though it’s not the first time they’ve been used by other shops in Europe. The “laboratory” will be used to try new concepts before sharing ideas that work with other Starbucks stores throughout Europe.
The design was directed by Ductch-born Liz Muller who worked with over 35 local artists and craftsman to add many of the details throughout the space. From vintage Deflt tiles, to bicycle inner tube art, and reclaimed Dutch-oak for all the trimmings, the space is warm and personal with an authentic localism that is hard for chain stores to pull off.
There are multiple levels throughout the space that double as stages for various events with the intent of having The Bank double as a cultural hub in the center of Amtersdam while also maintaining emphasis on the baristas.
The entire shop was designed to respect the architecture of the historic bank, but also to treat coffee as a theater. In fact, the store is constructed like a reversed theater; you can see the baristas the moment you enter the door, and as you move through the niches and platforms you never lose sight of them.
While I will never advocate drinking their coffee, I am continually impressed by the design, marketing and sustainability efforts that Starbucks continues to make. It’s a shame that all of it is done in vain when compared to their undrinkable coffee and heavy entrance into the instant coffee and K-cup markets.
With every move the company seems to make in the right direction, I give them another try. I’ve tasted their “Reserve Coffees” brewed on a Clover and I’ve sipped their “Blonde” roast brewed in a Chemex—but every time it’s the same sad story, burnt and undrinkable. At the very least these new concept stores will be a great place to sit and drink a cup of tea or hot chocolate while checking my email for free.
When your coffee company’s market value is $27 Billion, you can afford to hire world renown architects to design your cafés. In 2008, Starbucks worked with Japanese-born Kengo Kuma & Associates to build a new location near Dazaifu Tenman-gū, a major Shinto shrine first built in 905. Kuma’s goal to reinterpret traditional Japanese architecture for the 21st century is apparent throughout his work, which takes a macro look at woven sticks of wood to create a dynamic fluidity within the space.
The building is made of 2,000 stick-like parts in the sizes of 1.3m – 4m length and 6cm section. Total length of the sticks reached as far as 4.4km. We had experimented the weaving of sticks for the project of Chidori and GC Prostho Museum Research Center, and this time we tried the diagonal weaving in order to bring in a sense of direction and fluidity. Three sticks are joined at one point in Chidori and GC, while in Starbucks four steps come to one point because of the diagonal—a more complicated joint. –ArchDaily
This really is an incredible looking shop—now if only it served better coffee.
On December 13, just south of Starbuck’s hometown of Seattle, a new drive-thru location opened up in Tukwila, Washington. Unlike the other 17,000 locations though, this one is built from reused shipping containers. Green architecture isn’t new for Starbucks, last year they began opening LEED certified cafés around the world, but this is the first one utilizing cargotecture—the reuse of cargo shipping containers for architecture.
Starbuck’s isn’t the first coffee company to use shipping containers (Illy previously used a transforming shipping container as a café at the Venice Biannale and Ritual Proxy opened this summer in San Francisco) nor is their architect the first to design with them—though they speak as if they were:
We were able to open our minds to the use of very common elements destined for the landfill as structure for a high-quality, drive-thru coffee house design – essentially creating an industrial beacon for sustainable thinking. –Tony Gale III
I’m a big fan of shipping container architecture and applaud reuse in any form—however, I find it ironic that the modest green giant’s “beacon for sustainable thinking” is a drive-thru coffee shop in the suburbs. Maybe the sheer spectacle will introduce a unique perspective to a new audience, but I don’t see how a line of idling cars waiting for their trenta ice coffee is a beacon for anything other than the worst of American consumerism and suburban sprawl.
For being as large as Starbucks is, they aren’t entirely bad. I may not like their coffee, but I also won’t deny the trail they blazed for specialty coffee or the sustainability efforts they do make. Sadly, the reality of being a publicly-traded company too often encourages them to make decisions that counter all of their positive efforts (like joining the K-Cup trend) for the sake of maximizing profits.
In the long run, if this prototype became the new format for all future drive-thru locations, it could reduce the use of virgin material in construction and inspire other large companies to follow suit. But please Starbucks, show a bit of humility—shipping container architecture is not a Starbucks invention, nor is roasting “light.”
More photos and an interview with Starbucks on Inhabitat
Two weeks ago Starbucks made a big announcement. Bigger than dropping their written name from their logo (which I never covered), and bigger than this month’s roll out of Starbucks k-cups. On October 18th, the green giant announced that it would start selling lighter roasted blends, misleadingly named Blonde.
This is big for several reasons.
First, it supports the notion that a growing segment of the market realizes that Pike Place tastes like charcoal and they’re looking for something not-so-burnt. It may also encourage other roasters—who were worried that the size of the light roast market would not support their business—to lighten their roasts. If the market for lighter roasted coffee is big enough to gain Starbuck’s attention, there’s enough room for the small guys to compete in better ways and with more panache.
I’ve previously written about the uselessness of the term “bold,” and Starbuck’s role in perpetuating its use. Like it or not, the size of their business allows them to shape the language and perception of coffee for many people. How many independent coffee shops regularly get requests for tall, grande and venti drinks? Or have upset customers who ordered a macchiato, by serving them a shot of espresso with a bit of foam on top—where’s my caramel!? If Startbucks and its ginormous $2 billion dollar marketing megaphone can get people to think lighter roasts are a good thing—it allows the roasters who have already been roasting more enjoyable coffee to reach more people.
All of that said, there’s one big caveat to the Blonde roast—it’s not actually “light.” The new roast has been compared to the “milder taste” and “lighter roasts” of Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds, not Tim Wendelboe and Intelligentsia. So there is a bit of subjectivity in how the Blonde roast has been described. In the Starbucks video that announced the new roast, two Starbuck’s roasters discussed the process saying:
We went through 80 to 100 iterations…we were narrowing in on it for quite a while. At second pop is where we found the sweet spot for Blonde roast.
Second pop? On my recent trip to The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen, the first pop (or crack) took place in the cooling tray of the roaster. There’s usually another minute or two between the first and second crack in roasting, which means the Blonde roast is being cooked for 10% longer (or more) than light roasts that tend to highlight the taste of the coffee and not the roast. Not that its a fair comparison, since Nordic roasters are often teased for simply brewing green coffee, but it does put things into perspective.
For the sake of those who truely do roast light, its nice that Starbucks choose the name “Blonde” instead of “light,” even though it’s really medium dark. Just because Blonde is roasted lighter than the other Starbuck’s coffee (which isn’t hard to do), doesn’t make it a light roast. But it does make for great marketing, who doesn’t love a tall blonde?
So will Starbuck’s Blonde roast steal customers away from other roasters who have been roasting lighter for years—highly doubtful. Will it open the door for those same roasters to have conversations with new customers about lighter coffee—absolutely. It may even make the occasional, intolerable cup of airport coffee, slightly more tolerable.
I recently mentioned having conversations with soldiers about how terrible coffee is while they’re deployed and I can only imagine how important it is to their long days on patrol. This video show’s a few Canadian soldiers keeping themselves entertained by showing friends at home how they make coffee in the field. Bring them home!
Warning: every other word beings with “F” if that bothers you or your boss.
Seattles Best Coffee, a subsidiary of Starbucks, has released a new packaging system for their coffee. A system of levels was created to allow customers to define themselves—and their taste preference—with a simple number. This numerical system is apparently the first of it’s kind in the industry and is designed to help customers navigate through the overwhelming selections of a grocery store coffee aisle.
The packaging itself is quite beautiful. In fact, everything I’ve seen since their rebrand is of an extremely high caliber, thanks to the talented people at Creature. Back in May, when I wrote about the new Seattles Best identity, I felt like the only person on the planet who wasn’t comparing it to “the local blood bank.” Honestly, how often do people visit their local blood bank? The Apple logo doesn’t remind me of the grocery store, nor does the Nike logo remind me of a checklist. In time, I’m sure people will equate the big red uvula exposing smile, with a drop of coffee in a happy mouth.
The numbers of the system (1-5) represent the roast level, beginning with 1, “mild, light, crisp” up through 5, “bold, dark, intense.” Neither of which descriptions actually say anything about the flavor of the coffee. I participated in a Live Facebook chat with Seattles Best reps last week to try and get some more specifics. However, the best I could get—after first just repeating what was on the bag—was that “Level 2 will have more acidity and less body.” It’s sad that the complexities of a coffee’s flavor profile have been simplified to improve convenience, not understanding.
The once modest brand, existing mainly in Border’s bookstores, has expanded rapidly after recently securing deals to provide coffee at 300 AMC movie theaters, 20,000 Subway and 7,500 Burger King restaurants. The new market strategy will make the brand visible to a very large audience, very quickly.
The new Seattles Best website is also quite innovative compared with other major coffee companies—actually when compared to major companies in general. It’s very design centric, using refined typography and clean illustration to create a vibrant environment that is a joy to explore. It may be on of my favorite corporate websites of all time. It actually outshines the rest of the brand in some ways.
Clicking on one box will walk you through the process of the new level system, while clicking on another will take you to a stunning interactive photo essay of their “10-Day coffee break,” where 1000 coffees were shared with strangers in Canada. Don’t miss the video of Pete the chainsaw wizard!
While I’m a sucker for a strong brand, the company has to back up their image with a product of equal quality. Since my sample is still in the mail, I won’t comment on the quality of their new blends just yet. However, based on past experience I hope the new look is more than just that—because it would be a beautiful waste.
I’ll leave you with one last promotion that made me smile, the Big Red Fridge. Enjoy.
Starbucks is apparently working on a set of mugs made from recycled clay (20% of them atleast). I really like their shape and the typography made from flecks of broken ceramic. It’s not clear whether those broken bits are what makes up the recycled aspects of the mug, but I like the direction they’re headed. I’d love to see more of these in the future with a higher percentage of recycled content.
This recycled ceramic mug was brought to life in a zero-waste factory in Japan, which reuses the clay of former mugs and dishes to create new ones. It’s a story of reuse and renewal that is told from mug to package. The particles coming together to form words and shapes represent a renewed respect for resources. For from broken bits of ceramic, we can make beautiful things.
The Betacup contest has come to an end with 430 entries! Yesterday, the jury selected winners were announced, and first place went to the Karma Cup! Karma Cup transforms buying your daily coffee into a game that can only be played by those with reusable cups. Every person who uses their own mug puts a mark on the chalkboard and every 10th person get’s their drink for free! This is a great idea and I really hope Starbuck’s implements it. This process of engagement is far more rewarding than a $0.10 discount.
However, Starbucks has recently launched a fun new campaign to promote VIA, their instant coffee. The new website allows you to virtually and physically (through the use of a coupon) share a customized mug of VIA with a friend. While I’m no fan of instant coffee, I did review VIA last December and sadly, it’s better than Starbucks drip coffee. But all of my coffee snobbery aside, I do appreciate the design and—to a certain extent—the marketing behind the company. Starbucks has a solid in-house design group in Seattle and they consistently turn out high quality packaging, collateral, and emotion driven campaigns.
This new campaign does just that, while utilizing social media, customization, and mugs—which I love—and something many coffee drinkers have an intimate connection with. Now, if only Starbucks would start using them again in all of their stores, we could begin to stop wasting billions of paper cups each year (atleast they’re trying!).
Yesterday morning, Seattle’s Best Coffee unveiled a new identity(designed by Seattle-based agency Creature) and announced their ambitious plans to expand further into fast-food chains throughout the US—including Subway, Burger King, and AMC Theaters. The company was founded in 1970, but was bought by Starbuck’s in 2003—and for the most part, left to its own devices. However, early last year Starbuck’s decided to better utilize the brand and expand into new markets. Their new plan is to have Seattle’s Best Coffee in 30,000 locations by this fall. With so much visibility in order, a re-brand was imminent.
I’ve only seen the new logo in the context above, so I’m curious to see how the system will expand. My first impression is positive and I like the new direction. It’s simple and it makes me smile. The modern aesthetic is a drastic, but appreciated departure from the old characterless branding. The previous design blended into the grocery store shelves, right alongside Red Diamond, Community Coffee, and Folger’s. This will definitely help differentiate them as well as attract a new generation of customers.
As for the coffee itself, it’s most likely on par with Starbucks. Regardless, it will be a great improvement for places like Subway and the movie theater.