sneak peek: inside 15th avenue coffee & tea

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inside 15th Ave Coffee & Tea. More in the photoset [flickr].

Hot off the CF card, a whole bunch of pictures from the interior of the new 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea store, “inspired by” Starbucks and located in the former 15th Avenue shop on Capitol Hill (website: Almost everything from the old store was gutted and recycled; so during this afternoon’s preview we heard the words “repurposed” and “reimagined” with extreme frequency to describe the new decor and goals. The cupping table came from headquarters, the bar migrated from the recently renovated University Village store, a barn or two were repurposed like crazy, metals were soaked in water and left to rust, movie seats that would put modern audiences into back spasms were dragged in from somewhere, an entire philosophy text was turned into wallpaper, and pieces of a ship were dismantled — mast holes and all — to make a communal reservable table near the window. The effect, while overwhelming when cataloged, is one of a comfortable cafe with bins of small batch beans in the open for scooping and specialty whole leaf teas from Tazo in shiny chalkboard canisters for steeping. If anything, it reads as “typical upscale cafe” rather than a Disnified version that one might have anticipated from a corporate overhaul.

The store opens bright and early tomorrow, staffed by baristas in street clothes playing music over a state of the art sound system without a nearby LCD screen for making immediate purchases. You can get your drip coffee a few ways — through a French Press, a Clover, or dripped through ceramic filters — and shots of espresso will be hand-pulled with no frappucinos or smoothies in sight (though espresso drinks will me a tiny bit more expensive than usual). Snacks come mostly from Essential Bakery in Fremont and since they’ll be touching multiple “daypoints”, bottled beer and wine (one from Oregon represents the Northwest), sandwiches, and hand scooped ice cream are also on the menu.

As to the hypercritical question of the stealthiness of this endeavor, I don’t think that anyone is going to be “fooled”, nor is it clear that is their intent. If so, launching these test balloons (there will be three this year)in Seattle in a neighborhood with some of the most discerning and opinionated coffee consumers in the country wouldn’t have been the best strategy. Instead, everyone involved seems incredibly excited by the prospect of showcasing products they love in a comfortable setting. The “inspired by” in the name seems like a bit of a branding stumble; given the major departures from the look and feel of almost every other store in the massive fleet, it seems like a clean break from the recent past. I’m deeply dedicated (or tragically addicted) to our smaller local stores — my day is pretty much a disaster without at least one serving of Vivace and Victrola is a frequent office — but I don’t begrudge Starbucks for giving this a shot. In many other US cities, I admit that I’d probably be pretty happy to find one of these stores as an oasis in a desert of questionable quality coffee; in Seattle it’s a bit of a different story.

At this point, though, how it will feel beyond the repurposed furniture and decorations when people are actually inside serving and drinking coffee, meeting friends, or hiding behind their computer screens soaking in the free wifi is probably the most important component of this re-imagined experience. That test starts tomorrow; let us know what you think.

7 Comments so far

  1. awsamuel on July 23rd, 2009 @ 11:53 pm

    Key question: does this place have that weird (imho, yucky) Starbucks smell?

  2. josh on July 24th, 2009 @ 12:29 am

    seemed pretty odor-free today; I expect that it will smell coffeeish once they’re in grinding and brewing tomorrow.

  3. ksb23 on July 24th, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

    I’d personally rather see them do something like this than become the "McDonalds" of coffee. They are trying… don’t be a hater.

  4. josh on July 24th, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

    if you think I’m being "a hater", you have no idea how neighborhood performance protesters are responding.

    my general take is that it’s unlikely to become my personal local cafe, but if the corporate rebranding is for stores with nicer furniture, more pleasant lighting, better espresso, locally-produced foods, and fewer sugary blended concoctions, then my level of outrage is low to nonexistent.

  5. Cindy (chtickle) on July 24th, 2009 @ 2:01 pm

    Hey Josh! Love, LOVE your photos. You have an amazing eye and artistic vision. I’d love permission to use your photos for a blog post I’m writing about this new "non-Starbucks" Starbucks. Please let me know if it would be okay to pull them off of flickr. Of course, I would give you full create. Should I use your full name? And are you the photographer for the PI story?

    Many thanks!

  6. Cindy (chtickle) on July 24th, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    Ooops! Meant to say I’d give you full credit. That’s what happens when you type too fast. :-)

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