Starbucks Reserve Roastery: The Tailored Future of Retail

Originally published on Gensler WeChat account – February 2018


Gensler is proud to be part of the creation process of elevated and carefully curated retail experiences in partnership with some of the most recognizable global brands. As part of the Starbucks Shanghai Reserve Roastery project, Gensler helped to create the largest Starbucks retail location in the world. A fully functional roastery and retail showcase, it brings together education, interactive experience in coffee culture, and a coffee roasting process unique in the Asian market. Here, the guests can experience the roasting process, learn about coffee and tea culture, and observe the meticulously trained staff prepare the delicious beverages for dispensation and consumption, crafting a unique sensory experience. The careful choreography and programming of the various experiences in the space have paid off; the queues at the doors that persist months after opening are proof of the level of engagement this project has created for the Starbucks brand..

This retail facility limits the number of customers inside the roastery to maintain a specific ratio to the staff. This carefully orchestrated coffee experience guarantees that customers are able to fully enjoy the variety of “performances” throughout their shopping experience. More than just the show, however, the design of the space itself stimulates interaction and inspires curiosity and delight. Created in partnership between Starbucks and Gensler, an immaculate spatial experience is formed through rich textures and quality finishes. The Gensler retail team designed several key pieces of the interior, including the complex ceiling system, creating an undulating rhythm to complement the spatial experience.

The actual roasting of the coffee is a central focal point of the experience, with guests observing the process unobstructed. The process starts with the delivery of green coffee beans, stacked in burlap sacks, waiting until they are transferred into the roasting drums. Upon roasting, they are sorted mechanically in a transparent pneumatic chamber, creating a whirlwind of beans, and then sending them via pneumatic tubes to the centrally positioned eight-meter-high copper cask, adorned with a texture of coffee-brewing related Chinese character “stamps.” The beans are then distributed along a “symphony” of pipes to the brewing stations or the packaging conveyor line, to be prepared for distribution. Digital displays along the pipes label the destination of the beans, giving deeper insight into the roasting and coffee preparation process.

Along with the Starbucks brand, this location includes satellite brands like Teavana tea and Princi Bakery, presented within their own environments, the experiential concepts of these brands are implemented with the same doting attention to detail as the rest of the facility. The overall experience of the roastery subverts the expectations of the standard coffee shop experience and infuses a sense of mobility and personal interaction into every corner, with even the purchasing process reimagined to work like a conversation with a personal sommelier, untethered from the traditional point-of-sale.

The part-shop part-showroom is activated with digital screens, product tastings for pastries, teas, and various coffee blends prepared in a transparent environment, making the coffee brewing an engaging, almost ritual experience. This coffee adventure is further fueled by the carefully orchestrated interaction with the staff who underwent more than two months of training before being allowed to participate in the spectacle. This attention to detail and arduous training allows the environment, product, and service to come together and create a truly memorable atmosphere while imparting a bit of coffee wisdom to every visitor through educational activities and tutorials. Augmenting the physical experience in the Reserve Roastery, the Alibaba team helped to overlay a level of AR, adding treasure hunt-like discovery areas to the space.

The various aspects of the design and careful attention to the human interaction component come together to create more than a shopping experience, but a personalized educational adventure. Working with Starbucks on the realization of this experience-driven vision, Gensler’s retail design team continues to innovate in the retail space, pushing the retail experience beyond traditional patterns and helping create a sense of brand-focused curiosity, entertainment, and discovery.

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