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Starbucks Reserve Bars up the coffee game


It is a little ironic that a small coffee shop in hipster Seattle with a bare-breasted mermaid as its logo has become an integral part of “mainstream” culture. 

Perhaps a desire to stay ahead of the curve was an impetus for launching the Starbucks Reserve Bars, with select stores in cities around the country and world. 

According to the Starbucks Newsroom, Reserve Bars are “an interactive space, where customers can relax near the amber glow of the Siphon brewer or watch the slow, steady pour of Nitro Cold Brew cascade into a glass.” 

The pictures in the accompanying article show stores with spacious interiors finished with wood, black walls and hanging light fixtures.

The reserve coffee itself is described with words like small-lot, single origin, unique, limited edition and microclimate.

Sound pretentious? Absolutely. Does the minimalist black and bronze logo do anything to assuage this? Nope. But hear me out, because these stores are nonetheless a cause for coffee lovers to rejoice. 

Due to how new the bars are and how few locations are open, there are unfortunately none close to Northfield, but I recently attended the New York Coffee Festival where Starbucks had a Reserve Bar stall. 

I sampled their siphon-brewed coffee, which is created with a fancy apparatus that siphons liquid between two chambers via heating and cooling during the brewing process. While the whole production was more involved than a simple espresso machine or pour-over, the resulting coffee was incredibly smooth, which the friendly, beanie-clad woman making the coffee told me was a result of this particular brewing process – that, and a characteristic of the certain type of bean they were using. 

Another drink they were sampling was a combination of espresso and ginger beer, which was surprisingly delicious. It was new and different, and I got the distinctly hipster feeling that I had discovered something before it was cool. A feeling that only slightly abated when the Stumptown Coffee stall gave me an almost identical sample. 

As showy as these new drinks and techniques are, the product is tasty and the passion of the people driving the bars is genuine. 

I think it is great that Starbucks is continuing to try new things and improve customers’ experiences instead of resting on their laurels. 

By opening new stores, they are creating a space for people to access innovative ways of consuming their favorite caffeinated beverage while holding onto the long time favorites of the original stores.

One good thing about Starbucks getting to be such a major presence is that it made good coffee accessible to the masses. Places around the country where before the best cup of coffee available was watery drip coffee from the closest diner now likely have a Starbucks somewhere nearby.

Reserve Bars have the potential, to some extent, to mimic that idea. To give people access to a place where they can experience things like nitrogen infused cold brew and siphon-brewed coffee.

It is unlikely Reserve Bars will ever be as ubiquitous as regular Starbucks, but I hope that they are successful enough to continue to expand. 

Because while some of the drinks they are offering may sound kind of out there, I don’t think they are anymore outrageous than spiced gourd flavored coffee used to be, and look how popular it is today. 

Through things like the pumpkin spice latte and other seasonal and limited time specialty drinks, the regular Starbucks stores have shown that every day coffee drinkers are excited about new ways of drinking coffee too. It’s not just for connoisseurs. These drinks may not always be successful taste-wise (think unicorn frappuccino) but they are more times than not, and they are always fun.

By thinking so far out of the box, Starbucks is taking the experience to a whole new level, and that is absolutely somthing to be excited about.