Many coffee lovers around the world know and love Starbucks, but if your regular cup of coffee isn’t exciting you anymore, it may be time to take things up a notch and visit a Starbucks Reserve roastery or purchase something from the Reserve line.

If you haven’t heard of Starbucks Reserve before, I’m here to help you get acquainted.

Quick Answer: What is Starbucks Reserve?

Starbucks Reserve is a series of premium cafes and roasteries that sell rarer, higher-quality coffees that are more carefully selected than traditional Starbucks coffee. The coffee is almost always single-origin and from locations all over the world.

In the rest of this article, I’ll take you through everything you need to know about Starbucks Reserve and what makes it different from traditional Starbucks.

What Is Starbucks Reserve? (Is It Different Than Regular?)

I’ll also highlight some popular products and drinks from the Reserve line so you can get a feel of what you might enjoy if you find a Reserve roastery, bar, or store near you.

What is Starbucks Reserve?

As I briefly mentioned, Starbucks Reserve is a series of premium Starbucks cafes serving rare coffee blends worldwide.

The coffees served at Reserve are carefully selected by company members and coffee professionals after a lengthy tasting process.

Reserve coffee blends are brewed with a high-quality brewing machine called the “Clover,” which makes one cup of coffee at a time, so a cup of joe at a Reserve location is always fresh:

Clover coffee machines inside the Starbucks reserve.

The beans are special, too. Starbucks Reserve beans must be high-quality, ethically sourced, and have a story.

Reserve Specialty Coffee Traders seek passionate and dedicated growers who strive to get the best beans no matter the challenges they face, including climate change, difficult growing conditions, or a lack of resources.

All Reserve coffee beans adhere to the company’s Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) regulations. C.A.F.E. acts as a verification program that evaluates coffee farms’ social and environmental practices before Starbucks agrees to purchase from them.

Four criteria areas must be upheld for a coffee bean to be considered for Starbucks Reserve:

  • Economic transparency
  • Social responsibility
  • Environmental leadership
  • Quality

The program began with the intent to compete with other premium coffee retailers.

Since then, it has evolved to include three different types of locations: Reserve roasteries, Reserve bars, and Reserve stores.

How many Starbucks reserves are there?

There are six Starbucks Reserve roasteries around the world:

  • Chicago. The newest roastery location is also the largest: the roastery is five floors tall, with each floor offering different menus of coffee, tea, and baked goods from the Milanese bakery Princi. It also has a 56-foot cask, where you can watch coffee being transported throughout the 35,000-square-foot (3,252 square meters) building.
  • Seattle. Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks, so it makes sense that it’s also the location for the first Reserve roastery.
  • Shanghai. Visiting the Shanghai Reserve roastery is truly an immersive experience, thanks to the augmented reality technology highlighting brewing methods. This is also a great stop if you’re feeling hungry; this is the first location of a Princi bakery in Asia.
  • Milan. Milan is a chic and stylish city, and the Reserve roastery here is no exception. Located in Piazza Cordusio, this roastery allows visitors to witness the spectacle of coffee brewing and roasting firsthand.
  • New York. This roastery is located in the Meatpacking District, and the design of the building reflects the history of manufacturing in this area. It also features coffee and tea-inspired cocktails by mixologist Julia Momose with the assistance of Annie Beebe-Tron and Rachel Miller.
  • Tokyo. The Tokyo location highlights the beauty of Japan and Japanese culture, as architect Kengo Kuma designed the exterior of the building. There are four floors for visitors to explore.

At these roasteries, visitors can learn more about how the coffee you enjoy at their cafes makes its way to your cup. If you want an introduction, I recommend reading my article on the coffee journey.

Roastery locations offer a wider variety of coffee and tea drinks for enthusiasts and coffee lovers, and they also feature cocktails that bring mixology to a whole new level.

The ambiance of the Starbucks reserve.

A Reserve bar is more similar to a traditional Starbucks location than the spectacle of the roasteries. Usually, the bar features the normal menu and select Reserve offerings.

Reserve stores sell coffee, food from Princi bakery, and merchandise.

You don’t have to be close to a Reserve roastery, bar, or store to get a taste of the best quality and rarest coffee Starbucks has to offer, though.

Some of the coffee is sold in traditional Starbucks outlets, so you can ask your barista about it the next time you’re craving a Starby’s run.

What is the difference between Starbucks Reserve and regular Starbucks?

The difference between Starbucks Reserve and regular Starbucks lies in the quality of the products sold. Regular Starbucks only gets coffee beans from Arabica trees, at an elevation between 3,000 and 6,000 feet (914-1,829 meters), but Starbucks Reserve coffee beans are rarer and more diverse.

Reserve beans can be from anywhere, even in the most remote locations. Then, Reserve beans go through a complex refining and crafting process at one of the six roasteries.

Coffee bean pipes run through the Starbucks reserve.

Usually, Reserve coffees are purchased in small-lot batches, so they aren’t as widely available as the Pike Place Roast or Dark Roast coffee you can get at any Starbucks location.

Many of the beans are also single-origin, so they are from one farm only instead of featuring a blend of beans from various locations. Reserve coffee is also usually stronger than normal Starbucks coffee.

If you like your coffee strong, I recommend trying a Reserve coffee. I also suggest reading my article on how to make stronger coffee at home.

Not only is the product different, but the experience at a Starbucks Reserve location also differs from the normal Starbucks atmosphere.

Many Starbucks cafes are tidy and clean, but the roastery locations take ambiance to a new level.

Many roastery locations include a Princi bakery, a liquor bar featuring specialty coffee and tea cocktails designed by award-winning mixologists, lounge areas, and viewing rooms where you can see how coffee gets made:

Fresh coffee beans roasting in Starbucks reserve.

Starbucks Reserve roasteries are also significantly larger than regular Starbucks locations.

Most roasteries are over 30,000 square feet (2787 square meters), while the average traditional Starbucks is only 1,800 square feet (167 square meters).

The baristas at Reserve locations aren’t called baristas but are instead referred to as “coffee masters.” They treat coffee through seven different brewing methods:

Pour over 

The pour over method is when the barista (or coffee master, in this case) pours hot water through coffee grounds resting in a filter.

The water then drains through the grounds and filters into a carafe. This method has been used since the 1900s in other areas of the world, especially Europe, but has recently become more mainstream.

Rinsing the Hario V60 filter before brewing geisha coffee.

This method allows the flavors and aromas of single-origin coffee to shine, so it is one of the more popular brewing methods used at Reserve Roasteries.

If you can’t make it to a roastery, I can take you through two techniques for making great pour over coffee at home.

Chemex

A Chemex is a brewing device created by German chemist Peter J. Schlumbohm featuring a wood handle, leather cord, and tapered glass that makes coffee through a manual pour-over style:

Chemex coffee brewer on its side.

Chemex coffee filters effectively sort out many imbalances in coffee beans, making for a smooth and great-tasting cup.

For more information, check out my beginner’s guide on brewing coffee with a Chemex.

Cold brew

If you prefer cold coffee, Starbucks Reserve coffee masters have you covered!

They create renowned cold brews by steeping coffee grounds in cold water, creating a drink that is bold and smooth all at once.

Adding a lid to the mason jar cold brew to let it steep.

For a cheaper (but not as luxurious) experience, you can make cold brew coffee at home. 

French press

A French press is a cylindrical pot with a filter screen, and a plunger presses hot water through coffee grounds.

"Adding the plunger to the French press beaker."

This method is popular but requires medium and uniform grounds, particular skills, and attention to detail.

The result is a dense, heavy, but delicious cup of coffee. This article can teach you how to brew coffee with the French press.

Siphon

Siphon is one of the coolest ways to brew coffee but also one of the trickiest, which is why visiting a Starbucks Reserve Roastery and having a coffee master do it for you is so great!

This method creates a cup of coffee with intense flavor and a smooth finish, and the Siphon itself looks scientific and impressive, so even the process itself is enjoyable to watch at a roastery.

Espresso

Making the perfect espresso can be complicated, but the coffee masters at Reserve Roasteries are experts at making the perfect shot.

The perfect shot is, of course, subjective, but many coffee enthusiasts agree that the best espresso has a consistent layer of crema, is not overly bitter due to over-roasting, and has a distinct aroma.

A layer of crema on top of an espresso shot.

Clover

The Clover brewer uses a full-immersion method with vacuum extraction, which makes every flavor within the beans highly defined.

It is the brewing method of choice for many Reserve coffee masters because it is the best way to reveal all the complexities in the rare and single-origin beans.

With this more upscale experience comes a higher price. Many drinks at Starbucks Reserve are more expensive than their counterparts at traditional Starbucks locations.

The best Starbucks Reserve drinks

If you get the opportunity to visit a Starbucks Reserve bar or roastery, you might feel overwhelmed by the immense menu and spread of options you can choose from.

Therefore, it is best to go in with an idea of what you’d like. Here are some of the best Starbucks reserve drinks, from the simplest cup of coffee to the most articulately designed cocktail.

Affogato

Do you scream for ice cream? If you do, you’re in luck! Starbucks Reserve roasteries serve affogatos, which are scoops of vanilla ice cream with a double shot of Starbucks Reserve espresso on top.

You can opt to add demerara syrup and cinnamon for an even sweeter experience.

Nitro Cascara Cloud

This drink takes cold brew to the next level. This beverage is chocolatey, fruity, and oh-so-delicious, featuring nitrogen-infused cold brew, vanilla bean syrup, and cascara syrup cold foam.

Homemade nitro cold brew.
Homemade nitro cold brew

It also won’t break the bank; a 16-ounce Nitro Cascara Cloud is $6, which isn’t outrageous considering the drink’s quality.

Emerald City Mule

This mocktail is made with Reserve cold brew, ginger beer, cinnamon syrup, and lemon.

It tastes like your favorite copper-mug drink, but without the alcohol and with yummy coffee instead.

It’s also topped with an apple slice, which makes it as Instagrammable as it is delicious.

Brazil Fazenda Catanduva or Jamaica Blue Mountain 

If you just want a simple cup of coffee but one with immense and unique flavor, I suggest one of these options.

The Fazenda Catanduva is surprisingly light for a Brazilian coffee, and it features hints of citrus.

The Jamaican coffee is chocolatey and caramelly and is perfect for any coffee drinker with a sweet tooth.

Roastery Old Fashioned

After drinking a Starbucks Reserve Old Fashioned, you may never return to a regular Old Fashioned again.

This cocktail features Reserve cold brew, Nikka Pure Malt Japanese whiskey, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, and Amaro del Capo.

These ingredients make for the perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

Six Roads Daiquiri

A daiquiri is usually refreshing, but this take on the classic drink brings it to the next level.

Made with Reserve cold brew, Plantation 5 Year Grande Reserve rum, lime, strawberry, tomato, and Braulio amaro, this drink has vegetal and herbal notes that you’re unlikely to find in any other cocktail.

No matter what drink you get, you likely won’t be disappointed. Starbucks only serves the best of the best at its Reserve locations, so your beverage will undoubtedly be of high quality and expertly made.

Conclusion

You can consider Starbucks Reserve as a step up from your run-of-the-mill Starbucks.

These establishments allow you to enjoy coffee on a different, more premium level compared to traditional cafes.

The coffees from Reserve are rare, single-origin, and undergo a complex roasting process to make them taste as unique and delicious as possible.

These roasteries provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences that offer an intimate look into the coffee-making process and allow you to find new ways to enjoy coffee.

Homemade Starbucks drink to try

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