Starbucks Reserve is the New Budweiser Select

Not quite two years ago, I learned that Starbucks was introducing a high-end line of stores known as Starbucks Reserve. At the time, I thought it was an exercise in brand disassociation:

For years, Starbucks has become more or less the default coffee shop in most of the world and certainly in America. However, there’s been competition coming from cafes that feature baristas with fancy hats among other accoutrements. That’s right, instead of serving coffee that has been “roasted within an inch of its life,” as The Awl’s Matt Buchanan refers to it, Starbucks will serve single-origin, small batch coffees that will be prepared by hand.

Indeed, the Reserve stores disassociate themselves from other Starbucks stores by largely “banishing” its green mermaid logo in favor of a more refined-looking star logo with an “R.”

Last month, I found one of these Starbucks Reserve cafes, located in the heart of NYU–New York, on the southwest corner of Mercer St and Waverly Place. Like the Green Starbucks-branded location a few blocks away on West 4th Street, the place was packed.

Starbucks Reserve at 10 Waverly Place, New York City

It also felt a lot like every other Starbucks location I can remember as it included a lot of what you see at each location: the drip pourers of their Verona Blend, the warm food offerings, and the same point-of-sale experience you’ve probably had at every other Starbucks location (Apple Pay, FTW!).

But unlike the Green Starbucks, this Starbucks Reserve location featured brewing equipment not seen at any shopping-mall location: a siphon pot, Hario pourover cone, a Chemex, and the infamous Clover cup-at-a-time machine.

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Each method was available for the featured coffees, but the price varied according to the process. I inquired about a siphon pot but didn’t order it because it cost $10. The Chemex was a little bit less, and the Clover method was $5. Feeling more thrifty than picky, I opted for the $5 Clover-made cup.

The coffee came in a cup bearing the star-and-R logo and feeling heftier than other paper, coffee cups. The heftiness, I realized, was from two layers of paper, with a layer of air in between, that was designed to act as a heat shield, replacing the need for Java Jackets.

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The coffee, however, tasted exactly as I remember Starbucks coffee tasting like. The roast overpowers any flavor the coffee might have had. The cup-at-a-time brewing method only made that unpleasant flavor all the more noticeable. Think of the taste less as Starbucks Reserve than Starbucks Plus. It reminds me of what Budweiser did with Budweiser Select: all the “flavor” of a Bud, just more intense.

If you drink Starbucks, you’ll feel right at home. The difference in the Reserve stores is that they use a lot innovative brewing methods made popular by indies over the last decade. But Reserve tastes like plain Starbucks, except you’re paying $5 for a Clover brew or $10 from the siphon pot.

Starbucks Reserve
With the crazy markup for the artisanal brewing methods, you’re better off visiting an indie.

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