Hi coffee fans,
Well, this blog is usually devoted to chronicling the myriad and multitude of cafés in and around Seoul from the viewpoint of a Seattleite, but once in a while I gotta have my little detours into developments in Seattle, no? A few days ago in this blog I visited Seattle, Seoul, and the Washington DC area with reminiscences about the rain. And now today I will pay a quick visit to the new temple, the new shrine to coffee, built by the giant mermaid herself. It was huge news in Seattle, it made the national news, and it made headlines around the world too. It’s a new café with a really long name, and a big space to go with it. Ready? It’s the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room!
Let’s break that name apart into smaller bits, shall we? (Gosh, I feel like an English teacher) 😉
Then comes “Starbucks Reserve”. So, that’s actually a sub-brand of Starbucks that’s been around for a few years. I believe, but I might be wrong, that it all started with the Clover. To explain, here’s an excerpt of an e-mail I wrote to my friends back in May 2009, entitled the legend of the clover…
once upon a time, in the Scandinavian neighborhood of Ballard in the cloudy and over-caffeinated city of Seattle, a revolution was born. while most of the country and the rest of the world did not notice, a certain class of citizen easily found in the Emerald City, the coffee connoisseur, was brought to awe and recognized that the future would never be the same. for in an old trolley shed, just a mile from my house and less than a mile from the epicenter of the chocolate revolution that is Theo Chocolate, was born the Clover.
unwrapped from its cardboard box and placed on a barista’s counter, the Clover coffee brewing machine transforms a coffee shop from a great place to visit into a place to experience the sublime. coffee beans are said to be 10 times more complex than wine, yet much of this flavor gets lost in the transportation of the bean and then again during the brew. but the Clover manages to overcome the second problem, and coffee, my friends, becomes delicious.
most of you know that while i love to go out for coffee (especially with friends), i hardly ever actually drink coffee. i go for mixed drinks… mochas, cinnamon dolce lattes, frappuccinos… but last year, during a visit to Seattle, my dad and i went to my favorite Seattle coffee shop, Zoka Coffee. “Clover-brewed coffee!” the perky barista called out when my dad’s drip coffee was ready. he said it was excellent. i had a sip, and i agreed with him. but i continued to drink the mocha i had ordered.
since its birth in 2006, the Clover had been bought by independent coffee shops around the country and the world, and reviews have been unanimously excellent. word went out across the land about this fabulous machine that made this fantabulous coffee…
and so it came to pass that Starbucks, the giant of specialty coffee and coffee houses, heard about this revolution that had been born just miles from its headquarters. so what did they do last year? why, they gobbled the Clover up! so since last year, Clovers are officially Starbucks products.
So Starbucks took the Clover machines, started buying single-origin coffees from around the world, and set aside certain sections of select stores to bring these excellent beans and excellent machines together. Clover + single-origin beans = Starbucks Reserve! (See, now I’m a math teacher…)
(Sadly, Zoka and probably many other independent stores abandoned their Clovers because they didn’t want to be beholden to Starbucks.) 😦
So, let’s take a look at some examples of Starbucks Reserve. First, in Seattle:
Then, in Seoul! Yes, to much fanfare, Starbucks opened its first Starbucks Reserve café in Korea in March 2014. They took an existing café and remodeled it to have a Reserve section, just like they had done before in the US. This first café is right on the border of the exclusive neighborhood of Cheongdam-dong, right across from what’s considered Apgujeong and what’s technically Sinsa-dong. I visited a few days before its grand reopening, and it was already remodeled.
So, we’ve established Starbucks, Starbucks Reserve in Seattle, and Starbucks Reserve in Seoul. So finally, the next big step is the upgrading the sub-brand of Starbucks Reserve into its own café. So here we are, in Seattle, just up the hill from the original Starbucks at the Pike Place Market: the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room.
Plenty has been written about it, so I’ll just link to what’s been said, starting local and going national:
I visited the new café a few days after opening earlier this month. Here are my pictures:
As you can see, I had two coffees on my first visit. Usually I start with a mocha, but for this place I wanted to try the real coffee. 🙂 First, the Pantheon Blend, roasted via a coffee press, aka a French press. Highly recommended! Deep and flavorful. When I finished it, I still had about 45 minutes until closing time, so I decided to go for a mocha. Unlike other Starbucks, here you get to choose what beans you want in your mocha and other espresso-based drinks. I chose Sumatra Peaberry Lake Toba beans. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed in the mocha. Something was off with the chocolate flavor, or maybe it was too soon after the first drink. But they have many more drinks and varieties to try. For more details about the menu, look here.
Well, since this café isn’t in Seoul, this isn’t a full review. But I will say that the first Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room is a really cool place. One coffee was excellent, while the other let me down a little bit. I went there the first Monday after it opened, and though things had slowed down a bit, it was still bubbling with energy and excitement, both from the baristas and from the visitors. The details all around the building were thoughtful and sometimes striking. It’s a really comfortable place to visit and revisit. Somehow, though, it seems like it doesn’t have enough chairs for the size of the place. Yet it still fills up and feels full. I’ll have to go back and get another opinion, maybe during the daytime.
It’s quite a place. I’m so glad they went this route instead of the alternative. Since it’s the first of its kind, they’ll probably let it sit for a while before starting to expand. But in the not too distant future, I’ll be on the lookout for the first Seoul branch. In Seattle they used an historic building. So maybe in Seoul they will find or preserve an old hanok that’s not part of a hanok village? Starbucks better hurry, destruction of old neighborhoods for new development still continues these days…
Anyway, coffee fans, hope you enjoyed this little detour back to Seattle. Stay tuned for a post back in Seoul, hopefully by the end of the year… and with a little twist. Ciao!
Update! – December 22, 2014
I found a little display that perfectly explains exactly what Starbucks Reserve™ is: ^^