Starbucks Wants To Open A Chain Of Even More Upscale Coffee Shops

You may have thought that Starbucks was already an upscale coffee chain. Perhaps it is, compared to brewing your own Folgers at home, but there are even pricier coffee shops out there that offer even finer coffees. Starbucks wants to compete with these shops, which you haven’t heard of because you can’t afford to visit: even if you can, you probably don’t want to pay $45 for a pound of roasted beans.

Maybe we’re generalizing about Consumerist readers: if so, and if you crave a gourmet coffee experience, maybe Starbucks’ new venture is for you. In Seattle, the chain has opened the first store of its planned mini-chain, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room. There, you can find single-batch coffees that come from just one farmer.

One difficulty with this business model is that people who seek out an even more upscale coffee experience do so because they look down on Starbucks’ products and ubiquity. If there’s a Reserve Roastery in every large and medium-sized city, that doesn’t make their local roaster unique. Patronizing a corporate coffee shop means losing some credibility as a coffee snob and person who specifically seeks out a more expensive experience that is not Starbucks.

One consumer expert explains to the New York Times that what customers really want are “singular experiences” with their food and drink when a consistent experience is what chains like Starbucks are about. Yet CEO Howard Schultz says that he has been brewing this idea for most of the last decade, keeping track of ideas in scrapbooks. The company has invested millions in this new singular coffee experience, but will a chain where people can buy pricey beans and pay $4 to $7 for a cup take off nationwide? The growth of specialty roasters nationwide indicates that coffee drinkers might. The important hurdle might be getting past their possible distaste for the Starbucks brand, like selling $8 higher quality burgers at McDonald’s.

Starbucks, Facing a Saturated Market, Looks to the High End [New York Times]