We Went to the Biggest Starbucks on the Planet, and It Was Wild
The Starbucks Roastery in Shanghai is a giant, caffeine-fueled amusement park with high-concept coffee beverages and more carbs than you could ever wrap your brain around.
I didn't travel 30 hours to Shanghai to go to Starbucks, but it just sort of happened to me. The bustling Chinese metropolis is home to the world's largest Starbucks, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, and at the end of three-hour, self-guided street dumpling tour, I happened upon the Reserve's domed structure, as imposing as the Pantheon, and figured caffeine could be useful. I hadn't slept the night before, having watched eight hours of Mandarin-dubbed Big Bang Theory in a jet-lagged, fugue-like state.
The 30,000-square-foot Reserve Roastery is considered to be Starbucks' global flagship. Opened in December 2017, the space houses two high-ceiling floors of gifts, activities, food, beverage, and attractions, all seemingly engineered for social media. The location's opening marked the birth of Starbucks' ever-expanding "Reserve Roastery" concept, with one in Seattle, the company's headquarters, opening in early 2018. This September, a giant Reserve Roastery opened in Milan to much Italian complaining; the long lines, however, have told a different story—one of success and excitement. Unsurprisingly, the brand has hinted at plans to continue opening Reserve Roastery concepts around the world to follow the success of Shanghai, Seattle, and Milan. One might even be coming to New York this year.
As of 2017, China was Starbucks' fastest-growing market, with a new Starbucks projected to open every single day for the next five years, so it makes sense that the Shanghai Reserve is the most giant of the three.
Once I passed the two rounds of security men, one stationed outside and one inside the heavy glass doors, I breathed a sigh of relief that they didn't arrest me for having carried eight-ounce face wash in my purse on the flight over. Now more relaxed, I was struck by the sheer energy of the bright, buzzing space, which has an Eataly-like set-up of bars and vendors stationed within the larger structure. Where to go first? I stepped up to the Pairing Bar, a place to sip tasting flights of coffee paired with chocolate or craft beer, or grab a freshly scooped bag straight from the roaster. A few steps away I paused by Handpicked at the Roastery, a gift shop; a Teavana bar made out of 3D-printed recycled materials; and then, somewhat surprisingly, a place for pizza, foccacia, breadsticks, and Italian breads, called Princi. (You can also find Princi at the other two Roasteries.)
The foccacia was enticing, delicious, and authentic-tasting; we wouldn't mind if more bread options began popping up at American Starbucks locations, to round out their minimal savory offerings. In fact, there were many items at the Shanghai Reserve Roastery that we would love to see in America: tiramisu, chocolate pudding, cake, a smoky plum sour ale, more beer in general.
I needed caffeine, desperately, so I rushed past even more gorgeous pastries and knick-knacks and a factory-like roasting area to order a beverage from the menu, most of the items I'd never seen in America: iced sparkling espresso with mint, an americano con crema with orange-piloncillo syrup, the "sparkling pim pom" (tamarind and pomegranate sparkling juice topped with sparkling water and espresso shaken over ice.) There are several coffee bars positioned throughout the space, all with their own distinct styles and menus. Somehwat overwhelmingly, coffee throughout the Roastery can be made in six different ways; you can choose between "ModBar®Pour Over, Chemex, CoffeePress, Siphon, espresso, and the proprietary, Clover-brewed coffee."
There are so many choices to make, including the choice of whether you want to get tipsy at 11 a.m., as you'll find a robust selection of coffee-inspired and/or coffee-spiked booze all over the Roastery—beer, wine, and cocktails. The "mixology" menu includes some pretty out-there drinks, including "Cold Brew Lemon Sour," a predictably sour cocktail of cold brew, lemon, whiskey, and fresh lemon, and the "Hazelnut Whisper," a dairy bomb comprised of whole milk, chocolate-hazelnut sauce, and whipped cream that definitely tastes like more of a shout than a whisper. The only thing I disliked was the previously mentioned "pim pam," which was too tart and acidic for my embarrassing American palate.
American Starbucks would do well to take more risks on their menus, both in terms of flavor combinations and formats, all of which were on dizzying display in Shanghai (and at the Seattle Roastery). But what do Americans want? My guess would be more booze, but the jury is still out on Starbucks' ability to cross over into beer, wine, and spirits. In 2016, the chain launched an "Evenings" program with alcoholic drinks and meals, but ultimately axed it.
I would like to put in a personal request for more foccacia. Oh, and the iced sparkling espresso with mint, which you can find at the Seattle Roastery. A New York Roastery is slated for 2018, but we predict it won't open until 2019. Either way, we'll be showing up for pizza.