Yesterday with a handful of young colleagues, I visited the Starbucks Reserve Roastery. This flagship spot-for-the-hip was launched in Capitol Hill, an old neighborhood of Seattle within spitting distance of downtown and a lot more interesting. Installed in a venerable building on Pike Street that had housed the Utrecht Art Supply store for ages, it opened in 2014.
It was probably a dream in Howard Schultz’ head for years before that. What do I do now after building one of the biggest espresso-house chains in the world? Why, I’ll build the biggest Starbucks ever and target burgeoning Seattle upper class metropolitans.
After walking through heavily polished plank doors, we were greeted by a young host in a green Starbucks apron—similar aprons made from tin cloth can be had for $160.00. The space is open, high-ceilinged and also heavily polished, from chrome coated breakfast bar to sanded wood-formed stools to the dragon-sized coffee roaster, afterburner and cooler looming over the coffee flight bar.
Yes, one may purchase a coffee flight, choosing from Paradeisi, Pantheon or Gravitas Blends, among others. On the bag will be printed the year of the vintage.
Wait a minute. Flight? Vintage? Am I in a brewery, or a winery?
I’ve entered a new world of pairings, tastings, and special brews. Coffee is brewed, as is beer, but the process or experience doesn’t doesn’t quite match up.
After breakfasting on panini sandwiches, steel-cut oats and chocolate bread, we browsed the books – all authored by Howard, $120.00 neck scarves, and more than a dozen different coffee pots—espresso, drip, siphon, press. The espresso and siphon tasting was hosted downstairs of the roastery where we ended up purchasing the best espresso machine you can buy. Our espresso flight included a blend we described as having notes of blackberry and lemon.
We had to try the siphon brews. We watched the bored-faced siphon master heat the coffee in glass bowels, insert a tube attached to a glass hopper filled generously with ground beans, and waited for the magical change in pressure drawing the water upward into the hopper. When removed from the heat, the brew flows back into the bowl.
This process reminded me of an old home method of the same, without copper fixtures and bored clerks, found in many mid-20th century homes. They were called vacuum pots. I never could figure out how these worked, as I grew up with a with the sound and smell of percolators, graduated to the Melitta in adulthood and then to stove-top espresso pots—from which I have never wandered.
The siphon coffee was meh, after the chocolate-bitterness of espresso. At a neighboring table, a group sampled a flight of cold brew with tan heads built with nitrogen gas, in brandy snifter-style glasses.
Jazzed on caffeine, we walked out into the crisp October day. Places like that, at my age, are more like laboratories, places for observation, like sitting in a busy lobby or airport for people-watching. I examine shoes, hairstyles, gender, age. Method of dress. I make up scenarios: a woman in a smart orange jacket, black pants and branded heels meets up with a younger woman—daughter, client, friend? Groups of millenials, thin, long-haired women and stubble-decorated men, wait for coffee drinks, cell phones in hand, solemn loners on their way to work, thinking about girlfriends, night clubs, and chai.
It’s like a historical museum, places like this. I’ve learned to master signing my name with my finger but I didn’t know that a boomerang is not a weapon but a mobile phone app for generating a gif.
I get it. Being hip is a thing. I like a super-bitter IPA but I can’t get behind a sour. Or the thought of kombucha or bubble tea. So I’m not hip. But I like to know the enemy.