You know exactly what you get when you go inside of a Starbucks, and yet when you set foot inside the Starbucks Reserve store set on the ground floor of Orion House in London‘s fashionable area of Soho, it all seems so different. Starbucks Reserve, or “Star R” as they are referring to it, looks to keep the foundations of brand’s heritage, and yet update and adapt it to the modern world and coffee drinking trends. The whole aesthetic has changed, from the floors to the ceiling, including the walls, the food and displays, the menu, the uniforms, the payment systems, the brewing methods… the only two things that remain the same are the Starbucks coffee blends and their commitment to making it absolutely the way you want it.
Where to begin with the changes? We spent some time chatting with Ad De Hond, the vice president of store design (that is actually a job title), about the whole new look of the concept store. The brief for this Starbucks Reserve store was to strip a coffee bar down to the bare bones and build it back up as you would want it today, taking inspirations from the roots of Starbucks in Seattle, whilst blending in every modern convenience you might want. Perhaps this is why, when you look around, the walls are stark and bare, with a raw industrial feel, exposed pipes and hanging lights, that sheets of metal adorn the walls, and the brickwork is basically painted over with whitewash. Anything more would be superfluous to the experience. Everything is visible at eye level – all things that might obstruct, such as food displays, are made of glass – allowing a panoramic view around the coffee bar. It all looks pretty nice, and doesn’t have that same deja vu feel that every Starbucks you’ve ever been to has felt like.
The menu is equally as different as the look. The boards that greet you as you walk through the glass front of the store aren’t the typical printed menu you see in each Starbucks that you know off by heart already. Instead, they are monitors which change the display based on the time of day, offering some unique signature drinks including Sparkling Espresso with Mint, a Piccino, an Iced Shaken Double Shot Bianco or an American con Crema. What? Where’s the Orange Mocha Frappuccino? Or the Caramel Macchiato? Or even simply just the Pumpkin Spiced Latte? They are still there. They’ll make them. But that’s not what Star R is all about. A testament to making the coffee you want can be found in what Ad De Hond described as their “coffee theatre”, where they have the ability to brew coffee using some of the most vogue methods on the market: the Clover, Black Eagle, Syphone, Chemex and Pour Over. All can be nicely watched, but you are encouraged here to strike up conversation with the Baristas, who have undergone wider training, to discuss various brewing methods, talk about what’s new and cool, and how you might enjoy your coffee differently. It’s all a bit, well, new.
In keeping with the thought of “new”, technology plays an integral role at Star R, changing the way you order and pay for drinks, enjoy the store and radicalise that simple experience you are so used to at Starbucks. Firstly, there is no till. No cash register. No magic box that rings up your order and takes your money. Instead, staff are wandering around the Starbucks Reserve store, taking your orders on their iPads and taking your payment by your Starbucks Card, phone app, Apple Pay, or contactless transfer (although they will do cash if you are desperate). These guys even bring your drink or food over to you if required. There is super fast wifi too, so if you are working there all day, its even easier without bandwidth hogs causing a worry. Oh, and those charge mats are there too for wireless mobile phone juice.
Juice. Beer. Wine. Starbucks Reserve, from 4pm until 9pm, will serve alcohol, just like their store in Stansted Airport. With Star R sitting opposite the theatres of Soho, it is pretty convenient now to meet for a drink, a coffee or a snack all in the same place. In fact, the snacks and food are also new and have taken a step up and forward. Whilst some produce is still brought in from local bakeries, all the salads and some other menu items are made in store in their open kitchen – with nothing to hide. Some of the menu items include Truffle Mac & Cheese, Texan Pulled Beef Chilli, sharing platters and flatbreads in the evenings. There are also separate breakfast and lunch menus which have things like pastries, wraps and toasties. For those not keen on those, Star R also have POD produce on offer, so there should be something to satisfy your cravings.
Quite frankly, its all a rather new and different experience. The missing tills is the first thing, but the roaming staff, new decor, the beer and the vino are what really throw you. It takes Starbucks away from that chain image that so many coffee aficionados turn their noses up at, and strikes towards the heart of the coffee boom in London. Its taking what they do and trying to do it the Starbucks way. Will it be able to compete with the small, independent coffee shop that you love? Maybe, but on a different, more accessible level. Perhaps this occupies an interesting spot on the coffee spectrum between the chain experience and the artisanal local coffee shop that has never been plugged before? Best thing to do is go down, have a drink, have a chat and see for yourself.