Starbucks Roastery leaves Chicagoans still thirsty


Alex Miranda

The giant Roastery is only a couple blocks away from huge stores in Water Tower Place and 900 N Michigan.

There are countless Starbucks spots in the city of Chicago, but none more popular than the recently opened Starbucks Reserve Roastery on the corner of Michigan and Erie billed “the largest Starbucks in the world.” Approaching the four-story glass enclosure, excitement brews… then comes to a halt. Directing foot traffic, a security officer supervises a two hundred people deep, 45-minute line of tourists.

But what makes this Starbucks a must-visit destination, especially considering there’s a much less crowded location a mere 0.2 miles down the street?

The answer, as it was soon discovered: this isn’t a traditional Starbucks, for better or worse.

Upon entering, guests are greeted with a welcome pamphlet that unfolds into a poster-sized blueprint of the establishment. Each floor is marketed as an isolated coffee and culinary experience: the first floor serves as a welcome area, the second floor combines a bakery café and enclosed seating area, the third-floor houses the experimental coffee bar and a cocktail bar resides on the fourth floor. An elevator or short flight of stairs transports guests to a small rooftop terrace with additional seating, only available during the summer months.

While the scale of the Roastery appears grand and dons a sleek and inviting industrial-style design, the overall ambiance feels more corporate than comfortable.

Treasured coffee shops thrive on offering an intimate and leisurely experience for guests. Despite Starbucks being a name brand worldwide, most of their existing locations still hold some of the charm that contributes to the modern-day coffee shop phenomenon. By focusing on creating the “largest” coffee establishment in the world, however, the 646 Michigan Avenue location fails to replicate this very element that helped make them successful in the first place.

The seating availability, in particular, felt sparse for the 35,000 square foot venue. While a limited number of seats were available on the second through fourth floors, it did not seem like nearly enough to accommodate the large capacity of patrons. Additionally, about a third of the already limited seating was reservation-only.

But it all comes down to the coffee. The main draw of the Roastery is that it does not supply traditional Starbucks beverages, but instead only specialty coffee that is not offered at other locations. Frappuccino and macchiato droughts aside, the drinks truly do deliver in taste, quality and presentation.

The cold brew malt ($13) and pistachio latte ($8) are two highlights in a long list of innovative drinks found at the experimental coffee bar. If one can survive the initial sticker shock and are lucky enough to find a seat, the milky-rich texture of the pistachio-infused hot coffee and the creamy, think blended shake with locally-made vanilla ice cream can be thoroughly enjoyed.

If tasting specialty coffee at the largest Starbucks in the world sounds like a worthwhile experience to you, give it a try. But remember: when you find yourself standing in the 45-minute outdoor line waiting to get in, wake up and smell the coffee, there’s a traditional Starbucks 0.2 miles down the street.