How Starbucks Cleverly Merges Art With Commerce

Stores like the one in Milan have become iconic destinations


How Starbucks Cleverly Merges Art With Commerce
Travel October 25th, 2018

Starbucks has evolved way beyond coffee. A Venti-sized cup is ever-present in Anna Wintour‘s hand, while the grinning green mermaid is the world’s most photographed coffee receptacle.

Starbucks has transcended its place in pop culture into something of a status symbol. Kantar Millward Brown, a British marketing firm, says it’s worth USD$44.5 billion. Starbucks merch flies off the shelves, and its list of collectibles of mugs and travel cups have grown to include planners, laptop cases and enamel pins helped the company chalk up USD$22 billion in revenue last year.

Italy’s first Starbucks lives in a storied building, originally home to Milan’s old stock exchange. All Photos Courtesy of Starbucks  

Lately, die-hard fans have a far bigger mission — pilgrimages to Starbucks around the world.

Foremost on the agenda must be Milan, home to what’s touted as the world’s most beautiful Starbucks store. The Milan Roastery is Seattle-based Starbucks’ first in Italy, and is gorgeously outfitted with Tuscan marble and augmented reality-configured walls. Hours into opening its doors for the first time last month, a seemingly endless queue snaked out of the store, wrapping around the length of the building.

The building itself, the Palazzo delle Poste, is itself historic. The 20th-century building in the bustling city centre once housed the old stock exchange and post office. It is surrounded by iconic landmarks such as the famed opera house Teatro alla Scala, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a 19th-century glass-topped shopping arcade. It’s rather a coup that the American corporate coffee chain can sit within this space, encroaching on a coffee culture that is distinctly Italian.

Hours into the opening of the Milan Roastery, there was still a snaking queue outside. 

Starbucks has a knack for creating buzz with over-the-top standout stores. Most of these court controversy, with fans loving them, and locals either despising or tolerating them. Still, they attract hordes of the curious.

When Taiwan opened its first store made out of containers in Hualien, cash registers couldn’t stop ringing. The shop reportedly earned a record-breaking NTD$2 million (USD64,000) on its first day alone in September.

There is debate over which of Starbucks’ 28,000 stores in 78 countries is the most worthy of them all. Keyyes picks our top five for your travel bucket list.

Taiwan, Hualien 

Starbucks Taiwan opened its first store built from recycled shipping containers in Hualien county. The stack-o’-block on steroids was conceptualised by famed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who modelled it to look like a foliage of coffee trees combined with a traditional Chinese bucket arch.

It’s a geometric masterpiece. And your cappuccino comes with a complementary view of the Pacific Ocean.

Japan, Kyoto  

Walk past a row of traditional Japanese townhouses, and you’ll spot the familiar mermaid icon emblazoned on a door curtain.

The shop pays tribute to Japan’s cultural epicentre, modelled as it is in classic Japanese style. Customers can walk through traditional gardens, and sip coffee on tatami mats conserved from the original townhouse. Inside, rooms are decorated with hanging scrolls mounted in kimono fabric produced in Kyoto.

The Czech Republic, Prague 

Heritage takes pride of place at this outlet that sits by the entrance of the Prague Castle. The UNESCO World Heritage site is an integral part of Czech Republic history. The 10th-century castle has been the seat of its head of states — from Roman Empire rulers to today’s president.

From the stone terrace, you can enjoy a cup of coffee with a sweeping view of the city’s  red-tiled roofs and green domes.

United States, Idaho

Once a bank serving the citizens of Idaho, this is now the town’s visitor centre… and a Starbucks. Capturing the spirit of its mountainous surroundings, Sun Valley-based architect Susan Desko created an exterior made of a panel of stacked reclaimed logs, installing massive wood totems at the entrance.

The interior is decorated with Ernest Hemingway portraits, paying tribute to the author who penned the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) in Sun Valley. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer is also buried in the town’s cemetery.

China, Shanghai

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Shanghai is the largest in the world, spanning 30,000 square feet. The coffee wonderland gives customers a glimpse into the bean-to-coffee process — either via a virtual lesson or in person.

There, witness staff pouring green coffee beans out of burlaps. The raw beans are roasted in a two-storey copper vessel adorned with hand-carved traditional Chinese stamps.

Using augmented reality via a smartphone, you’re able to point at the copper vessel. An animation video pops up, showing newly roasted beans dropping into the cask. Virtual information about the coffee-making process is embedded in throughout the roastery, which is found along Nanjing Road, the equivalent of New York’s Fifth Avenue.

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