June 4, 2012
★ The Starbucks Concept Store in Amsterdam is Amazing

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Starbucks Amsterdam-4

Earlier this year, a blog that I follow about coffee posted some press images of the new Starbucks Store in Amsterdam. It’s a concept store to show the very best of Starbucks. From Dear Coffee I Love You:

To double-down on yesterday’s post about Starbuck’s deep pockets and their ability to build remarkable cafés—I present to you Starbucks: The Bank. Europe’s new flagship store will open this weekend in Amsterdam on the heavily trafficked Rembrandtplein. This giant new location will feature a bakery and “coffee laboratory” and was built inside the renovated vault of a historic bank.

The Bank has replaced the now-standard super-automatics with throwback La Marzocco Lineas and there will be a “Slow Coffee Theater” which will focus on brewing Starbucks small-batch reserve coffees with undisclosed “slow” methods. This will also be Starbuck’s first European location with a Clover system, though it’s not the first time they’ve been used by other shops in Europe. The “laboratory” will be used to try new concepts before sharing ideas that work with other Starbucks stores throughout Europe.

The store had me drooling as soon as I saw the post. That day I asked my boss if there was some reasons I should visit Amsterdam soon and we began planning the trip I’m returning from today. I touched down in Amsterdam at 5AM local time on a Thursday. After checking into my hotel at 7AM, I crossed the street and entered the new Starbucks. It’s no coincidence the hotel I was booked to stay happened to be right across the street from the brand new store. It was 7AM and customers were in line ordering their morning caffeine shots. I spoke to the manager for a few minutes and to some of the employees to find out more.

Oddly enough, I spent a total of 4 hours in this store throughout the week and there were never more than 10 people in this store at once. It’s outside of the tourist area of the city and across from a local small chain called “Coffee Company” which has about 15 stores in Amsterdam. Coffee Company is always packed. This Starbucks was not. Maybe it’s because the store was so large? Maybe Dutch don’t like Starbucks? It’s very hard to tell. 

Enter the auto sliding glass doors and you’re greeted with a victorian style split of two stair ways. Left or right both go to the same place but it’s a nice look that gives the guest a view of the entire store as soon as they enter as the entire store is a level below the entrance but wide open from the first moment you step in so you can see it all. There are pillows along the windows with seating areas. The pillows are stuffed burlap coffee bags that are designed to look worn and used. The ceiling is beautiful cut wood and the entire store is LED lighting with tons of natural light from the outside. All of the tables are hand carved wood and the old brick is still left exposed. Is this an Apple Store? It certainly feels like it. You’re passing all of the seating as you walk down the stairs so you can veer off and have a seat or continue down the stairs to order your coffee. There’s a long community table in the center of the store with seating for about 15 people. The center of the store at the bottom of the steps is where you order. There’s the standard Starbucks Gear shelf of mugs and coffee makers on the right side and you step into a queue  where you first see pastries and finally get to your turn at the cash register to order and pay. 

Every thing that’s in the glass pastry / snack window is made fresh from scratch daily in the store. None of the foods are pre-packaged unless indicated which the Indian Curry and one other sandwich were pre-made. The woman taking my pastry order was the one who baked them and was excited to share the process of each one and recommend her favorite which was the blueberry muffin. I ordered a single espresso shot which was ready by the time I finished paying.

All Starbucks stores in Europe don’t take the Gold Card or Gift Cards that are issued in the US. This is slightly annoying not just for the debiting of money Starbucks already has credited onto my card but for the stars that I like to acquire as I go to various Starbucks stores to work toward my next free drink.

To the left of the ordering counter is a very quaint 4-seat bar alongside a counter featuring “fancy” coffee brewing methods. They offered their fantastic Clover machine which was the only Clover currently available in Europe. They also offered French Press, Pour Over and Chemex. You picked the coffee which was their entire Starbucks Reserve Line-Up along with a few extremely small batch exclusives to this store, then the size and finally how you’d like the cup brewed. 

Each employee in this store is a Coffee Master. Generally, Starbucks stores have 1 Coffee Master total in each store and some have none. These are very hard certifications to get so very few people train for them. This store was full of coffee masters and I enjoyed talking about the various tastes and smells I was getting. I sat down with a dutch girl who was training for the program. We smelled 4 types of reserve coffees all made with the clover machine for me in small servings and played a game. I had to pick out the smell and taste of each coffee and she’d look at her coffee master training book and tell me if I was close or not. I did pretty well picking out blueberries, mocha, earthy and lemons. One was spicy and that wasn’t in the notes so we had the manager try and confirm she picked up the spice as well. It was a ton of fun!

I went to the store three times while in Amsterdam before I had to go to Belgium. Each time was great because the employees were so attentive and friendly and so well educated. My thought is that the attention and discussions i had were so great because the store was always dead empty when I visited with a minor bit of students studying and professionals quickly running in to get a coffee and not sticking around.

Overall, I’d like to see some of the aspects of this store shared with existing stores. First they should open the stores up to be more open with the use of LEDs for softer lighting. The coffee making station to educate people on beans was very cool and fresh made pastries every morning was a nice touch. Most stores just don’t have the room for these features but it’s something that would be excellent and help Starbucks compete with the smaller coffee shops that also specialize on different brewing methods and freshly baked goods. The one thing this store didn’t have is a roaster. They aren’t roasting their own coffee but that’s a moot point as Starbucks’ big advantage is constancy as all of their varieties taste the same no matter which store you go. To recreate the French Roast in the store might be a challenge for them but maybe a roaster for small batches of coffees that aren’t sold at any other Starbucks store. That would be pretty cool.

I’d live at this Starbucks if it were in my area. Sadly, my nearest Starbucks is an hour away. 

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