Coffee Culture Gone Wild at New Starbucks Reserve Roastery

By Edoardo Donati Fogliazza, August 16, 2018

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At the poker table that is the Chinese coffee market, the stakes are so high that players are going all in. While newcomer Luckin is literally giving away coffee for free, Starbucks announced in May that it wants to open 600 new stores per year in the mainland (that’s a new one every 15 hours) and to expand to 100 new cities by 2022. 

Beijing’s new high-end Starbucks Reserve Roastery is the concrete manifestation of the company’s ambitions: Venti-sized and encompassing much more than just coffee. The massive building in the Beijing Fun complex is dazzling, though not quite as big as its Shanghai counterpart, which opened last year. The experience unfolds over three floors, dedicated respectively to coffee, tea and… alcoholic beverages. (Yes, Starbucks is going all out on this one.) 

Image via Edoardo Donati Fogliazza/That's Beijing

Once inside the first floor, we are presented with a huge countertop and a grandiose copper ceiling. Starbucks calls it as an ‘interactive coffee bar,’ where customers can learn from the coffee masters about blends and brewing methods, though it almost resembles a chemistry lab. The goal is to give an ‘immersive experience,’ and while we can’t speak for our fellow customers, the staff is certainly having one, given the crowds that have been packing the store since its opening. We, on the other hand, have to compete with tens of other patrons to get the brewing-method explanation on offer. 

Apart from the more common press and pour-overs, you can try the Chemex brew (with special filters that allow for slow dripping) or, if you want all eyes on you, the theatrical siphon brew (RMB69). You can also try the ‘original beverages,’ available only in Reserve stores, including a ‘smoked butterscotch latte’ (RMB52) and a ‘hazelnut dolce macchiato’ (RMB48) poured from a tap like beers. 

Image via Edoardo Donati Fogliazza/That's Beijing

Design gimmicks like this make Starbucks Reserve more of a tourist attraction than a shrine to serious coffee culture. And with a lot of the precious seating area occupied by shelves of branded merchandise, this isn’t exactly a place where you can peacefully savor your coffee. Still, our Sumatra blend, one of the three small-lot coffees available, is really outstanding, with fruity notes and a lingering aftertaste that stays with us all the way home. 

On the upper floors, you can choose from the whole spectrum of the Starbucks ‘Teavana’ tea collection and taste coffee-flavored craft beers, like the ‘Kenya grapefruit IPA’ (RMB68), or just a good old prosecco (with no coffee in it, for once). Despite including some aperitivogo-tos like flavored breadsticks and tarts, the food offerings do not represent a great upgrade to your usual Starbucks experience. 

Starbucks Reserve Roastery isn’t the ideal destination for a coffee lover, but maybe someday, when the novelty wears thin, we might be able to enjoy it without the crowds.

[Cover image via Edoardo Donati Fogliazza/That's Beijing]

See a listing for Starbucks Reserve Roastery and read more Beijing Bar & Restaurant Reviews 

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