Food & Drink | THE HIGH GROUNDS

Starbucks' Reserve Roastery Tokyo is a 'coffee wonderland'

by Claire Williamson

Staff Writer

On Feb. 28, the latest — and, at nearly 3,000 square meters, the largest — Starbucks Reserve Roastery opened its doors in Tokyo’s chic Nakameguro district. Although the average Starbucks opening doesn’t spark much excitement, the roastery’s exquisite design, innovative approach and sheer scale merits a closer look.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery Tokyo is the company’s fifth such roastery. It follows openings in Seattle (2014), Shanghai (2017), Milan and New York (both in 2018), but goes above and beyond those groundbreaking facilities in embracing local design and aesthetics, not to mention an unwavering commitment to coffee.

Located in a prime spot next to the Meguro River, first impressions of the Kengo Kuma-designed building are of lightness. Angular tiered terraces draw the eye upward, and the building feels like it’s about to lift off the ground. The only Reserve Roastery thus far to be designed and built from the ground up — previous iterations repurposed existing buildings — Kuma utilized sugi (Japanese cedar), a durable, fragrant, light-colored wood to make a “Japanese-like building” that would “connect the neighborhood with coffee.”

Designed and built from the ground up: The exterior of the Kengo Kuma-designed roastery.
Designed and built from the ground up: The exterior of the Kengo Kuma-designed roastery. | COURTESY OF STARBUCKS

Inside, from the origami-like ceiling to the washi paper lanterns, each of the roastery’s four floors is a “celebration” of Japanese culture. The focal point of the space is a 17-meter-tall copper cask, which rises up like a glimmering monolith from the ground floor, its 121 copper plates hand-hammered in the Japanese tsuchime technique.

Supplying Starbucks stores across Japan: The Reserve Roastery Tokyo can roast up to 1,800 kilograms of coffee a day between its two roasters.
Supplying Starbucks stores across Japan: The Reserve Roastery Tokyo can roast up to 1,800 kilograms of coffee a day between its two roasters. | COURTESY OF STARBUCKS

Complementing the cask are 2,100 copper cherry blossoms that cascade down from the ceiling — in homage to the Meguro River’s famous cherry tree-lined banks. From the cask extends a complicated-looking, vaguely steampunk system of pipes and tubes, some emblazoned with the words “straight from cask to cup,” that wend their way around the ceiling, delivering beans around the store. But the cask is as functional as it is eye-catching: According to Starbucks representative Noriko Suzuki, beans “rest” in the cask for one week after roasting to allow the gas that has built up during the roasting process to escape before the beans are brewed or packaged for sale.

The first floor hosts the roastery’s main coffee bar, which offers a range of unique coffees and coffee-based beverages. Baristas offer one-on-one consultations, tailoring the bean, brew style and preparation to individual tastes. They also serve signature beverages such as a barrel-aged cold brew (¥1,200) that uses beans aged in whisky barrels, resulting in a pour that is rich, sweet and smooth, with a hint of an alcohol-like burn at the back of the throat.

Coffee and cocktails: A bartender filters coffee at the Arriviamo bar to use in a drink.
Coffee and cocktails: A bartender filters coffee at the Arriviamo bar to use in a drink. | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

The roastery doesn’t limit itself to coffee alone. The second floor is home to the Teavana tea bar, which offers an equally innovative experience, with 18 loose-leaf teas and even more tea-based beverages. One, a cream soda made with matcha from Kyoto, sparkling water, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a bright red cherry (¥900), is a nod to the melon-flavored cream soda often found at kissaten (traditional coffee shops).

Upstairs, the third-floor, full-service Arriviamo bar has both coffee and tea-infused cocktails, Japanese twists on standard classics and non-alcoholic options. With the Tokyo Pour Over (¥3,000), coffee is filter-brewed, poured over a cocktail made with Japanese whisky and served with two ochoko sake cups for sharing — combining the best of coffee and cocktail craft.

Coffee and cocktails: A bartender filters coffee at the Arriviamo bar to use in a drink.
Coffee and cocktails: A bartender filters coffee at the Arriviamo bar to use in a drink. | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

As if the previous three floors weren’t enough, the fourth floor boasts the Amu (from the Japanese word “to knit”) Inspiration Lounge, an event space and soon-to-be Specialty Coffee Association of Japan-certified training location.

And “roastery” is not just in the name. The Reserve Roastery Tokyo can roast an impressive 1,800 kilograms of coffee a day between its 118-kilogram Probat G-120 and 16-kilogram Probat P25 roasters. Coffee roasted here will be packaged and shipped to Starbucks stores across Japan. The roastery will also make the eponymous Tokyo Roast, a Starbucks Japan-exclusive blend coffee that will change with the season.

According to Starbucks Japan CEO Takafumi Minaguchi, the roastery is a “coffee wonderland.” It certainly provides myriad opportunities to see Starbucks in a new light.

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