I work at Starbucks and have, what would be called a vintage partner number, which means a couple of things;
1) I am older than the average Starubuckian.
2) I have been floating around the company for a fair while.
Many things have changed; the machines, layout and dress code to name a few. Who remembers the Maple Oat Nut Scone, Bean Stores, those terrible days when we tried to be Crate and Barrell; ‘pre-frappuccino’ days, or ‘tap, tap–rotate 90 degrees and 60lbs of pressure’, which always ended with our green apron being covered in freshly ground coffee? I do.
Some things haven’t; and here, at this massive store, I was reminded of memories and life-long friends that are always with me and have given meaning to my days and life. As a partner, as a company, and as human beings, no matter how big and how techie we become, we have to remember and honor our roots and memories; we have to ‘keep it small.’ (Yes, I have drunk the Kool-Aid–and it’s good.)
I found myself in New York City for World Pride, (Of course, I will post about World Pride–which was mind-blowing); but here I want to share the visit to my Mecca; the Starbucks Reserve Store at 61 9th Avenue; across from the Chelsea Market. When I say, 61 9th Avenue; I do not mean a business inside of 61 9th; or a floor at 61 9th; I mean 61 9th–in its entirety. 23,000 square feet of coffee insanity. It was so overwhelming, I don’t even know where to begin; so, I’ll start at the entrance; where I was greeted by a lovely gent named Larry, clad in a Black tie and matching blazer. He gave me an orientation–a lay of the land. Like a deer caught in headlights, I couldn’t move; so, he suggested I could download the app.
You are greeted by the Siren, of course. She has been a part of Starbucks history since the companies inception. Carved, majestic and inviting: I am ready to begin.
The Main Bar is on Level One. No green aprons here; only Black Ones, earned the hard way–(for us vintage numbers, we know what that means). The Black Aprons are Coffee Masters; akin to a sommelier in the wine industry, and this parallel is never more obvious than here in the Reserve Store. They study coffee with passion and execute their knowledge with deft ability. I am greeted by a Coffee Master, who leads me to the next station; The Experience Bar. The bar is solid walnut under a ceiling of geometric-rock-like objects; gleaming copper Chemex brewers, glistening Siphons, Modbar Pour Overs, pristine Clover Machines and branded ceramic cups in perfect lines are on display. There is not a speck of dust or debris to be found anywhere–(trust me: I looked!) It is spotless and refined; an orgiastic feast for the senses.
At The Experience Bar, the Coffee Master learns a little more about you. Where are you from? Why are you visiting New York? From your conversation, they suggest the perfect beverage to begin your journey. The Experience Bar offers a number of coffee flights, based on the brewing method, country of origin, cold brews, pairings, whether you are a solo coffee drinker–(like me)–or in the need of a ‘coffee date.’ I chose the Truffle Pairing, despite my Coffee Master explaining that it would be enough for two—and I am, well–not two. It was a pairing of curated and decadent chocolates and coffees and I didn’t need anyone else to help me out with it. There is not one word wrong with this sentence.
After my Truffle Pairing experience, I wandered through the retail section, filled with NYC Reserve Store branded items; holiday ornaments, shirts, hoodies, coffee passports, tumblers and more.
Around the corner from The Experience Bar, I notice a wall display, created from Reserve labels; that says NYC. I loved this so much, that I snapped a picture—let’s do it Team Laurel—(that’s you Alexa!) A Coffee Master approaches me and notes my interest in the ‘clacker board‘; I don’t know what he means, and then he explains that the board–adjacent to the Reserve Cards–gives up to the date information about what is going on in the Roastery. It is called a ‘clacker board‘, because of the sound it makes when the letters change. Oh yes…I nodded knowingly.
The Scooping Bar takes me back to the magical day of Bean Stores. It serves to remind us–as Starbucks partners, that at the core of what we do every day; is to connect with one person, one spirit, one cup at a time. This is the heart of our mission; the thing that separates us from other places that ‘sell coffee.’
Here a Coffee Master will hand scoop a special coffee for you. I LOVED my Bean Stores when I had them; it felt like I was packaging a memory and making it beautiful again for someone.
I am delightfully trapped by my memories. I can’t drink a cup of Starbucks coffee without suddenly finding myself transported to being a single parent and at times pitifully poverty stricken. We found joy in simple things; walking through the neighborhood, with my son, Elvis Christmas in our ears, looking at the lights; bicycling down the beach singing Hari Krishna chants, making up stories and characters to match star clusters in sky—in these memories, there was always my son, a cup of coffee and feeling like we were living in the lap of luxury.
Up to the staircase, is what is known as the Arriviamo Bar. My journey could have ended right here, and I would have been fine; because the Arriviamo Bar is cocktails and coffee. Again, there are no bad words in that sentence.
Mixologist Jula Momose collaborated to create an amazing menu. Unlike Jack Daniels Distillery, this is NOT a dry county and the menu boasts Cognacs, Rums, Liqueurs, and various aged salts and vanillas and…of course coffee. I tried a Caffe Crustina; which has Cold Brew and Hennessy—amongst other things; but, let’s be honest; they had me at Hennessy. I followed that up with a Black & White Manhattan; because it’s Manhattan; the vermouth and Bourbon were a delightful side effect. They also have virgin cocktails; but, I didn’t try any of those.
Sitting at the Arriviamo Bar, I turned and watched Princi; which is literally something to watch. It looks like a scene from The Jetson. Pizza, pastries, salads, artisanal bread, desserts and so much more—all made fresh, by hand, for your viewing pleasure. Princi is another collaboration; this one between Rocco Princi and his beloved Milanese bakery and Starbucks.
The bathrooms are located on the bottom floor. I mention them, because they are also decadent, with lighted mirrors and automatic sinks. The best part is the coffee journey you take to get there; a hallway lined with real coffee beans and plants, giving you a little education on your journey to the john. Sometimes the best things really are hidden in plain sight.
My final stop was the Roasting Arena. Here there are two roasteries; the Probat Roaster and the centerpiece, a 30-foot copper cask.
This roasting plant is the largest of its kind in Manhattan and roasts more than 1.5 million pounds of coffee each year. These beans will be used in-store and will be shipped to other Starbucks locations to be used in beverages.
The Copper Cask, which is the centerpiece is a holding facility, where beans rest after they have been roasted. The next stop on the Coffee Bean Express is to the Probat Roaster; where coffee beans are delivered via tubes in the sky, roasted and delivered elsewhere in the store for processing.
As I sat at the bar, circling the roastery, watching the freshly browned beans work their way through the machine, families, and faces mesmerized by the magic unfolding before them; I thought about how new memories were being packaged right here in the heart of New York City; memories, that would one day be unwrapped and made new and beautiful again; because in the end, being delightfully trapped by our memories can be a beautiful thing.