TOKYO >> On Feb. 28, the latest — and, at more than 32,000 square feet, 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.”
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 more than 55-foot-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.
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 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.
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, 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 nonalcoholic options.
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 some 4,000 pounds of coffee a day. 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 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.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery Tokyo is located at Aobadai 2-19-23, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0042. For more information, visit starbucks.co.jp/roastery.