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The Cafe Stage
Starbucks Tries Something New
Author: Will Ten Haagen
Posted: March 6, 2012
Article rating: 8.9
feedback: (13) comments | read | write
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Thursday, on March 8th, 2012, Starbucks is about to try something new -- for them -- in my beautiful home city of Amsterdam. It is a concept store that they are calling the New Coffee Experience Laboratory. It is also being referred to as "The Bank" or more formally, "Starbucks The Bank". It is exciting to see such a major company take steps like this towards providing more transparency and respect towards the coffee beverage and its preparation, but also it is interesting to note that much of what they are doing can already be found in some of the top shelf cafés found in the Pacific Northwest (Canada and the US), New York and even Los Angeles.

The Bank - Starbucks Lab in Amsterdam.

Looking at the photographs of this new space Starbucks is opening, you can tell they put immense focus into the look and function. The Café and Lab occupy 430 sq.m. (4,500 square feet) of space and is located in the former vault of a historic bank on the very popular Rembrandtplein area of Amsterdam, meaning it will have incredible exposure. There is an impressive use of wood throughout the store, and it seems Starbucks is taking cues from something that is becoming increasingly popular in some top western cafés - the common table where many different customers will sit together and perhaps interact with each other. They have one very prominent in the central seating area of this new facility.

This new coffee house draws a lot from modern Dutch culture and style. Looking at this café it is perhaps even hard to imagine that it is even a Starbucks coffee house at all. This is by design. From a recent PR piece on this cafe:

"The Bank was purposely created to push Starbucks beyond its comfort zone in terms of innovation and experimentation. What works in the Amsterdam store will make its way to the rest of Europe."

According to the Starbucks PR, this café had 35 different artists and craftsmen work under the direction of Starbucks' Concept Design directer, Liz Muller to create the look of the place. A huge focus was put on local Amsterdam style and details. Antique Delft tiles were used; walls use bicycle inner tubes in creative ways; wooden gingerbread biscuit moulds and burlap from coffee bags are used as accents all over. One particular design feature is notable" there is a tattooed Delftware mural highlighting the important role that 17th century Dutch traders played in exporting coffee around the world.

Continuing with the design, a visitor may note when walking in that the designers managed to expose and reclaim the original concrete and 1920s marble floor that this former bank vault featured. And wood is everywhere: much of it is reclaimed and repurposed Dutch oak: the benches, tables and the striking square block ceiling relief feature piece (itself made from almost 2,000 pieces of individually cut blocks) are all made from reclaimed or repurposed wood. And following the look and feel of many avant-guard independent cafes, much of the seating in The Bank is repurposed and restored seating - much coming from surplus provided by local schools and facilities. Starbucks is quite proud that their new Amsterdam facility meets or exceeds Leed sustainable building guidelines to reduce the impact on the environment. When this facility was constructed, Starbucks managed to divert most of the waste from the previous facility's demolition - instead of going to the landfill, it was organized and sorted for recycling or reuse wherever possible. It's great to see these larger corporations paying attention to sensitive details like this.

Beautiful Ceilings
This vantage shows the long community table (reclaimed wood) and the fantastic ceiling design at Starbucks The Bank
Long Table Seating
Reminiscent of recent avant guarde cafes in various cities, this new Starbucks The Bank will feature a large community table.
Reclaimed Tiles, Daily Papers
Throughout the design are recycled, reclaimed and repurposed items, including the tile work near this newspaper stand.
Entrance "quiet area"
The entrance is a statement too, with quieter areas (separated by glass from the main room) and views of the street.

The Method and Purpose

The Coffee Experience Laboratory at Starbucks The Bank was designed and engineered to -- as Starbucks says -- treat coffee as a theatre. The moment you walk in the door, your eye and focus sees the "stage" (where the baristas are working) and there are no seating locations in the entire facility where the baristas and the stage are out of sight. Unusual for a Starbucks, baked goods and other non-coffee items are pushed off to the edges, and coffee has a front and centre attention. There are two well designed La Marzocco espresso machines central, and wrapped on either side are the slower-brewing coffee stations. Facing the stage, you see the Clover station on the right, and other slow brewing methods on the left of the espresso machine area.

Starbucks is using a lot of terms and phrases to describe this facility, and another one they like to use is "Slow Coffee Theatre". The slow coffee movement has been taking off worldwide, with care and attention paid by independent cafes to focused brewing stations, cupping notes, and places to interact with the working barista as they build the beverages. This appears to be a major goal at Starbucks The Bank in Amsterdam at well.

Starbucks will be bringing their Clover machine to this location, and it will be the first Clover deployment in Europe. What looks like a dual Clover station is featured to the right of the espresso area, and the designers have set up the station for a lot of interaction.

To the left of the espresso station, other slow brewing methods will be featured, including pourover, press pot and possibly others (though it does not look like they will be using or featuring siphon brewers, which would be a shame).

When you see the layout and function that this café will introduce, a lot of Starbucks' recent industry moves make a lot more sense. Starbucks has been retooling their coffees recently, and have been putting heavier focus on their own variants of "microlots", which they call small batch reserve coffees. In test markets, they've been experimenting with lighter roasting methods more attuned to bringing the most out of the coffee's natural flavours instead of letting the roast dictate the primary tasting notes. We fully expect both of these things to be brought to the Starbucks The Bank location, and beyond.

Given the look of the interior, we wouldn't be too surprised if this Starbucks location starts hosting coffee tastings, coffee cuppings, and perhaps even introductory courses to various home brewing in the future. It will be intriguing to see how far Starbucks pushes the reality of the "laboratory" with this café and the consuming public. For instance, wouldn't it be amazing if the company did organize proper cuppings for the public, and brought in competitor (or top shelf independent coffee roasters') coffees to pair against their own offerings to show -- perhaps -- how Starbucks micro lot coffees taste better than other offerings? This probably won't happen but it would be another major departure for this company if they do open up the samplings!

(I am probably dreaming far too much if I request that Starbucks The Bank feature "guest coffees" from time to time on their slow brew stations!)

Multiple Levels
The cafe features multiple seating levels and lots of wood which should help absorb some sound and provide more intimate seating areas. Every seating area still provides a view of "the Stage"
The Main Stage
Stuff like baked goods and cold drinks are pushed to the edges - the centre of the stage is espresso and slow coffee.
The Room
On the far wall is the global map made out of reclaimed tile showing the Dutch influence in historical coffee trade.
Entrance Way
Another view of the entrance way showing the great Dutch design
Wide View of Bar
Wide view of the bar and prep area from "the Stands"

The Result

Well we do not know the result yet of this offering since Starbucks The Bank is not open yet! But I wish to share my thoughts and hopes for this location and for Starbucks' direction.

First, I am so pleased to see Starbucks take this step and really do something unique and special for their company. We see companies like Intelligentsia, Stumptown, Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, Metropolis and others take the lead not only in coffee house modern design in North America, but in how coffee is presented to the public. For a long time, Starbucks seemed neither interested in, or concerned about this movement towards slow coffee and more transparency in coffee. Now this has changed.

But instead of just building their own vision of a Intelligentsia Venice Beach in Amsterdam, I can tell Starbucks presented this new Coffee Experience Lab with a definite Dutch flavour and eye towards what we Dutch expect in a state of the art café. This new facility is very much at home in modern Holland and I am looking forward to my next visit home so I can visit this location.

Second, I am pleased to see that Starbucks is paying more attention to how coffee is roasted, brewed and presented. I have not been a fan of their roasts because I do find them too dark, but I have had the new blond roasts recently and have enjoyed them quite a bit. In my neighbourhood the Starbucks staff are very friendly and accommodating, but their coffee knowledge or perhaps passion for coffee is not the same as going into a Sight Glass cafe. In such a cafe, it is possible to have where a conversation with the barista who has cupped the coffee they are serving you fifteen times over. Normally you wouldn't expect this same level of interaction at a usual Starbucks location.

However, I imagine my local Starbucks experience will not be the same at Starbucks The Bank in Amsterdam. I expect that the baristas working at this new location will be as fanatical about coffee as I am, if not more so. I imagine they will be providing constant feedback to their masters about what their "audience" expects and tastes. I imagine that Starbucks will continue to move forward with this new information and new experience they are creating.

I am excited to see how this develops!

Editor Note: this article was based on a detailed promotional article submitted to CoffeeGeek by Starbucks' European Creative Content Agency, Lemon Scented Tea which can be found in our PR section. All photographs were taken by Rien Meulman and are used with permission.

Article rating: 8.9
Author: Will Ten Haagen
Posted: March 6, 2012
feedback: (13) comments | read | write
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