Starbucks' Process Lab

  • March 4, 2015
  • Scott

Starbucks has an interesting experiment going on in their new Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle.  It sounds like a coffee process junkie’s dream:

The space is designed to be both a playground for coffee nerds and an easy initiation for the average joe-drinker. You get an intimate view into both the brewing and roasting processes, but with the same comfort level that you’d experience in a normal Starbucks store… and none of the pretension often associated with coffee connoisseurship.

They even roast beans right in the store… and the article gives a clue as to why:

A pair of small Probats do the roasting legwork in 25 or 50kg batches. [… ]

These roasters aren’t that different from what you’d see in a small coffee roastery, but they’re unique within the canon of Starbucks because they allow a higher level of flexibility. One of their master roasters equated the process to throwing darts. Even the pros miss a few times before they hit the bullseye.

Operating at such a large scale hasn’t allowed Starbucks to experiment as much with smaller micro-lots, because it takes a few tries to correctly dial in the roast and there isn’t room for error in massive production plants.

I find it fascinating how companies work at improving process when their volume would seem to preclude it.  How does a company the size of Starbucks iterate on a process that needs to support 10,000+ locations?  Or consider a McDonald’s and how hard it is for them to work out new processes for food delivery given the scale they have.

Of course, if you’re a coffee nerd like me, Starbucks is just tip of the iceberg.  I’m still looking forward to trying out the 65 coffee shops featured in a recent Austin Monthly magazine article…

Now I just wonder if this Starbucks roastery concept will travel to other locales or if it will stay in Seattle…

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