Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room opens at the base of Capitol Hill

(Images: CHS)

At night, you’ll see projected images of coffee farms and harvesting. The new Roastery opens Friday at 7 AM. Be there. (Images: CHS)

The clacker board "clacks" off the latest roasts (Images: CHS)

The clacker board “clacks” off the latest roasts (Images: CHS)

In a massively overhauled auto row-era showroom at the base of Capitol Hill, Starbucks has created a coffee experience so large, you’ll need a map.

It’s got a big name, too.

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room opens to the public on Friday at the corner of Pike and Melrose after a couple of nights of entertaining big coffee VIPs during the Seattle-headquartered company’s annual investors meeting. Hours are 7 AM to 11 PM, daily.

“It’s the ultimate expression of Starbucks,” Roastery general manager Coulter Smith told CHS on a pre-opening tour of the 20,000 15,600 square-foot roasting facility, cafe, and restaurant. Smith is a company veteran who began his Starbucks career as a barista. He’ll manage at least 32 of them here — “We’ll see if we need more” — and around 100 employees total.

CHS first broke the news on the goliath plans for the project in the former home of an art supply store and Volvo dealership just over a year ago in September 2013. It wasn’t the first time Starbucks decided to innovate in coffee-rich Capitol Hill. And the project with a base construction budget of $2.3 million (UPDATE: Sprudge says plus about $1 million in equipment) probably won’t be the last. But it will probably be the only one requiring Puget Sound Clean Air Agency approval. As part of the plan, Starbucks brought along frequent collaborator Tom Douglas and his Serious Pie. Both Douglas and Starbucks have signed long term leases with the building owners who selected coffee over beer for the future of the one-time Packard dealership.


(Image: Starbucks)

(Image: Starbucks)

IMG_6694 IMG_6711 IMG_6606

Images: CHS

The Roastery, in the time it takes some of the smaller restaurants on Capitol Hill just to get their construction permits, has sprung into reality in its new, changing neighborhood as what will likely instantly be a draw for visitors to the city, coffee fans, and a small army of coffee pros looking for a gig in a green bean to cup environment.

It is the largest Starbucks on the planet.

The roasting and packaging operation employs a team of one dozen. They are charged with producing what is expected to be up to 1.4 million pounds of Starbucks Reserve-quality coffee beans. Twin Probat roasters — one tiny at a 50 pound capacity, the other not much larger at 260 pounds — fill the enormous open space with the smell of a good roast and will supply the “Scoop Bar” and the serving bars with their product as well as gear up to supply what is expected to be some 1,500 global Starbucks Reserve cafes by the end of fiscal year 2015.

The bean roasting is fully on display and designed as a centerpiece to the action inside the room — there’s even a one-way mirror above the restroom’s open sink area so visitors can watch the back end of the operation while washing hands.

Images: CHS

Starbucks people involved in the project like to say the experience is a “theater of roasting” intended to share the company’s “passion” for coffee excellence.

“We strive to share this passion through the finest coffee experiences, and we’re proud to introduce the Starbucks ReserveTM Roastery and Tasting Room,” the company’s “fact sheet” on the Roastery explains, “where coffee will roasted literally within feet of where it will then be handcrafted with care by the cup.”

Food and coffee porn by Starbucks

There are several options for exactly where in the Roastery and how that hand crafting will give you that special cup. Beans are available by the ounce at the scoop bar with a selection of varieties and an exclusive roast for sale. At the main bar, you’ll find the most straightforward experience where you’ll be welcome to choose your old standard but also be encouraged to try out more exotic preparations like the Shakerato — espresso shaken over ice — or a sparkling espresso with mint. You can also order food from Starbucks buddy Douglas — more about his Capitol Hill Serious Pie outlet, below — who supplies Dahlia-born pastries, salads, and sandwiches — coffee rubbed turkey? — for the bar.

More, um, experiential coffee consumers, are welcomed to the western lower level’s Experience Bar, where the more fancy pants of the Roastery’s eight methods of brewing will be on display. Go with the siphon if you’re into science.

Stay for the pie.

Images: CHS

Douglas’s pizza joint and bar fill the northeastern edge of the Roastery with a softly separated area that will look out onto Melrose Market (and towering construction cranes) when the secret-keeping window gauze comes down. There is room for around 70 customers to come in for lunch starting at 11 AM and stay for dinner until 11 PM. There is booze. There is coffee. There is pizza pie. Another big crew of employees man and woman the restaurant.

After all of that, you can browse the shop area with a curated selection of Seattle-sourced goods like Glassybabies. But we recommend you take a rest in front of the fireplace with a good book. You’ll probably find something fun to read in the Roastery’s coffee library — just to the right of the Experience bar. Or you can just look at the map.


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62 thoughts on “Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room opens at the base of Capitol Hill

    • It IS terrible.

      Starbucks is a corporation. They care about the shareholders more than their customers even though they will tell you that you come first.

      In order to please the shareholders, they need to make as much money as possible. That means making each cup of joe as cheap as possible while charging as much as possible.

      They may tell you they have the best coffee beans, but they are cheap. The taste of cheap coffee can be masked using sugar, syrups, heat, etc. just like the taste of cheap food like pizza can be masked with salt.

      So their you have it. It IS terrible coffee, even though you may enjoy it.

    • Why yes, there you have it. It’s a good thing we have people around with obviously superior tastes, that not only know so much better but are eager to tell those with such clearly less discriminating tastes that what they like isn’t really any good. We’re really fortunate here that way.

    • Gotta go with Capitol Hill Resident on this. One great way to cover up low quality coffee is by overroasting, hence why starbucks always has such dark roasts. This is because, the further you go into a roast, you eventually start exchanging natural origin flavors in the bean for simply a roasted/charred flavor that is a product of the dark roast and not the actual product. So, it is literally true when people call them “Charbucks”. And yes, even if you like it, it is indeed terrible, low quality coffee. HOWEVER, we’ll see if this new reserve off-shoot they have is actually good, well-roasted coffee.

    • You know there such thing as a roast curve? Many coffee companies roast to different spectrums. If you don’t like one roast, try another. SB seems to roast to satisfy many different preferences. If you think the coffee is over roasted, you ordered the wrong roast for you. That or maybe your equipment wasn’t cleaned or calibrated.

      You don’t mask quality with roast, you mask it with powder which is why you see many places offer flavored coffee beans (not flavored with syrups, but with powders – macadamia nut, french vanilla etc.). I used to work for Caribou Coffee and SB’s is a million times better. All you have to do is educate yourself – something few take the time to do.

    • [there]* you have it you mean.

      ….Actually the coffee at this location is much better than what most people are used to tasting from Starbucks. They bring in raw beans and roast them fresh, ending in the grinder before your eyes.
      Stumptown does this on CapHill and others too. It’s about time Starbucks changes their ways (at least in their hometown), giving a good cup of Joe.
      It also fits in well on Capital Hill with the natural and recycled look.
      So don’t hate, educate.

      P.S. For your own personal reference:

      There – describes an object, not a person
      Their – describes something belonging to something, not always a person

    • Plus the prices are typical for CapHill.
      One main downer is the long lines as well as half of the baristas on the bar don’t so much as look up from what they’re working on, let alone say hi.

    • Not disappointing at all… fact, the opposite. This is a very classy design, inside and out, and it also is a great example of a successfully repurposed older building….wish there were more like that!

    • It is a beautiful space, and is now even more beautiful (also an opinion) But when I think about the artists who contributed to this overall design, it’s really impressive. Architects, Interior Designers, Graphic Designers, hell even the Industrial Designers who imagined all the espresso/coffee machines. These are people who care deeply about “the space” and “experiences” and have all most likely busted their humps making it the best they could. Yeah, their coffee isn’t always the best, but I don’t know many businesses who put that much effort into design. They could have applied the same franchise plan-o-gram crap design to this space and made it look like every other sbux. THAT would have been a waste of space!

  1. Feel how you may about Starbucks (as in, here come the comments about burnt coffee and corporations and “Victrola is right there, I will die before going to Starbucks!!!”) but they do a darn good job of keeping the character of buildings intact and creating interesting interiors while preserving the exteriors. This building looks aesthetically pleasing and I am glad they put in that care.

    • Upvote! Love, hate or indifference to the SB’s products, I give them big kudos for keeping the character of the existing building(s) and creating a beautiful space, we have lost so many of the older spaces as of recent, I do prefer Vivace and Vita’s espresso, but I for one will unabashedly admit I do love me some SB French Roast or Sumatra.

  2. Seriously, I’m not a Starbucks fan but that space looks awesome. I prefer Victoria, vivace, or vita, and haters are going to hate regardless, but I give Starbucks some props for putting together something that looks fantastic.

    • They jacked the interior design from Sightglass Coffee in San Fran! It also looks like a Disneyfied, grandiose tourist trap that belongs in Times Square.

    • Congratulations! You’ve belittled something using the world-wise San-Franciscan and grumpy New Yorker stereotypes with great efficiency!

    • Ah, Sight Glass coffee! I went there a few times because it was pretty (and a block away from where I stay when in SF). Then I had the coffee. Now I just walk by and admire the wooded interior and all the hipsters within drinking their sand-colored, acidic, and overly floral designer coffee. Sheesh – the stuff would give me the worst stomach aches. But hey, to each their own.

      This new Starbucks also reminds also reminds me of the flagship REI. Those copying b*stards!

  3. This is really exciting! Starbucks has created a space which preserves the history of the building and one that the public can sit back and enjoy themselves in. Much better use than just keeping the facade and building apartments above.

    Its not cheap but it’s not your regular Starbucks, it seems. I can’t wait to check it all out.

    • I stopped in this afternoon, and they are not only pulling shots by hand, but you can choose from four different beans for your drink. My coffee was pricy ($7.12 for a grande soy mocha), but the beans weren’t burnt (sorry, haters).

      The space itself is really great–it won’t replace my daily coffee shop, but I’ll dip in for an occasional cup with friends or a date with the hubby.

  4. The “tasteful spectacle” got a at write-up at Fast Company. Worth looking at just for the impressive gallery of photos. But I had to cringe at “a caffeinated wonderland sitting at the top of Seattle’s swank Capitol Hill district.”

    Swank? That’s what we’ve become?

  5. This waste of space is obscene! This is a 16K one story building just up the street from downtown Seattle. I find nothing about auto row worth preserving. It is the Kmart of architecture compared to similar buildings on the east coast or in Europe or what could have been build there. Something like the Bullite Center perhaps or anything else really. Too bad the property tax is based on the building rather than the land. Greedy pig like behavior like this should at least have an appropriate price. This space is far too valuable for a one story anything.

    • I usually agree that we need to build higher and higher but there are some instances where these 1 story buildings provide a visual rest, allowing more light and “breathing room” in a sea of high-rises.

      I’m glad this site was preserved as a 1 floor building.

    • When was the last time you took a stroll on the hill? Most of the buildings going up are plastic monstrosities, drawn up by developers just trying to make a quick buck. Do you want another one of those? Yeah, yeah, Starbucks coffee sucks. We all know that. But I’ll take this well-planned, unique repurposing of space any day over most of what I’m seeing being built right now.

    • We need daylighting in between the tall buildings. (Turns out one of the reasons Paris’ version of five-over-one is so pleasant is that Hauptmann designed the heights, the street widths, and the setbacks of the mansard roofs to allow daylight into all the streets. Oh, if only we were that smart.)

      Also, never mind the east coast or Europe or the Pyramids — this is the history we have. There’s not a lot of that admirably durable salt-glazed tile made any more (because making it emits hydrochloric acid!).

  6. Some people are harsh critics of Starbucks, yes, but they do a lot of wonderful things for this city and around the world. How many retail-level companies offer their employees health insurance, dental insurance, 401k, and stock options? Also, consider all of the money Starbucks invests both in this community and elsewhere. And there is no denying that the architecture/design of mosts of their stores are GORGEOUS. Bad coffee, overpriced, monopolic, whatever, I get the criticisms… but I’m sure as hell happier to call these guys neighbors than I would be something like Wal-Mart, Exxon, or even Amazon. I say, welcome!

  7. Yes, the space is beautiful…but what happened to the mosaic that was above the front door and is now replaced with the Starbucks mermaid? I had noticed the other day that it was covered up, and I assumed it meant they were restoring it, along with the rest of the architectural details of the building, but sadly I was wrong. I understand the desire to “brand” the building, but did they really need to get rid of a nice architectural detail like that, just to put one more stamp on the building? I mean, we all know it’s a Starbucks… Sad. Any chance they moved it indoors?

    And, yes, there is better coffee in Seattle, but like it or not, millions of people around the world seem to enjoy their coffee and it is one of the defining characteristics of our city’s global reputation. If you ask someone in Hong Kong, Buenos Aires or Copenhagen what they know about Seattle, they are most likely going to mention Starbucks, and that is good for our city in many different ways.

    • People know Starbucks around the world as a symbol of Seattle the same way they know McDonalds as a symbol of the United States.

    • This will draw a lot of people uphill from the Convention Center, more like a tourist attraction and flagship store than a regular coffee shop location. Some of them will eat food there, but some of them will then no doubt notice some of the nearby restaurants. Probably a net plus to the neighborhood.

    • I work at a coffee shop a few blocks away and I’m not worried about it, more curious. With this store in the neighborhood maybe we can get coffee walks/tours going so people can taste more that Seattle has to offer.

      The area they set up shop is already LOADED with coffee shops, it’s not like they’re going to be the last straw to crumble the place.

  8. What in the world is all this hating on Starbucks about!?!? Seriously, can anyone really think of a more legit retailer as far as employee benefits and trying to do something positive with a 3rd world supply chain not to mention starting an entire industry that employees tons of people without requiring some BS degree in something? If people are going to be hating on Starbucks they might as well skip over Starbucks and spread their hating to focus on the entire private enterprise system which as far as retailers are concerned pretty much just goes down from there…

  9. Wow, the hate on this thread is incredible

    It’s a freakin coffee shop. Also, what would you prefer they do with the space? Make it a Verizon store? Keep it the same ratty art store it used to be? They took a historic building and dumped a ridiculous amount of money inside to restore it. “Shame on Starbucks!” Seriously kiddos, go get a cabin in the woods and stop complaining about Corporate America already.

    • Seriously, it’s far from the worst thing they could have done with the building. I’m a coffee fan, and I enjoy having lots of options for my various coffee moods. I’ve had plenty of lousy coffee at supposedly excellent cafes, and plenty of pleasant cups from the more invested Starbucks cafes. I’m fairly certain this place will function as a sort of officially-branded debut for the kind of quality experiments they’ve been running at places like Roy St., and not just a gussied-up version of the drive-thru calorie depots everyone’s used to associating with Starbucks I’m intrigued by the idea that I can easily pop down to the sort of spectacular cafe experience that’s only possible when corporate-scale cash is available, especially since Storyville turned out to be so creepy. Finally, I think it’s just great that Starbucks is making an effort to reinforce its Seattle roots. Of any international corporate entity on the Hill, Starbucks is probably the most intimately familiar with what we expect and enjoy about our neighborhood.

    • Actually, the artists I know who still live here miss that “ratty art store.” Although the specific artists I speak of, and I’m compelled to mention that they have lived here for over a decade, are moving away at the end of their lease due to rent hikes, so I suppose that’s none of your concern.

  10. The prices are very high, but I look forward to checking out the architecture. There are things to like and not to like about the company itself, but I think those that say all the coffee is charred just don’t know enough. Starbucks features the dark roast Asian origin coffees like Pike Place blend, and it’s what usually gets offered for drip, but they actually have a wide spectrum of coffees with different roasts and origins (like the delightful Kenyan). As far as syrups, most people who go to the place don’t seem to actually like coffee. They like sugar, and sugar sells. That’s not the company’s fault. I usually drink their coffee black, and take a pour over of something I like or a blonde roast when it’s available. We all have different preferences. It’s not good to spread disinformation to support your point of view or preference. — a former barista (aka “partner”) of Starbucks.

  11. All and all, I think this is great. I am not a Starbuck’s patron, but kudos to them for restoring such a great building. A large corporation with lots of $$ was needed to do this, and they did it.

    I can’t help but think of the upsides for the Hill. Many 9 to 5 office workers and conventioneers will be curious to have a look, and wander up Pike Pine. After their spendy latte, they may stick around, and pick up a pair of shoes at Edie’s, some cheese at Calf and Kid, or — wandering further up the Hill — a book at Elliot Bay Books (if their exploration is as extensive as my musing, they may even need a second shot, and have one pulled at one of our Hill roasters, such as Victrola). What a great way to pull visitors into our neighborhood and help support local businesses. By restoring the old Packard building, many of our guest’s first impression of the Hill is that we value our heritage buildings, and their continued use. And, as easy as it is to demonize Starbucks, they are local and employ thousands of people in Seattle; their CEO lives just down the Hill in Madison Valley, not on the Eastside, like so many others.

  12. “The Roastery, in the time it takes some of the smaller restaurants on Capitol Hill just to get their construction permits, has sprung into reality…”

    I wouldn’t necessarily boast about the fact that a billion dollar multinational corporation had an easier time getting it’s permits and construction handled than the small, generally local businesses in the neighborhood.

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