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New Starbucks in Tokyo

The biggest Starbucks in the world – a real coffee’s cathedral - has just opened its doors in Tokyo, right on time for the cherry blossom season starting. The building containing the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery, with its 1200sqm spread out over four floors, was designed by Kengo Kuma. Liz Muller, Starbucks chief design officer, and lead designer for all the Roasteries – designed the interiors. This is also the first Starbucks Roastery designed from scratch in collaboration with a local architect.

I had the privilege to be among the first guests allowed to visit this stunning place, and I got really impressed by the suggestive atmosphere and the impressive quality of the design. The Tokyo Roastery merges traditional and modern design across its four floors, designed to "draw customers into an immersive experience".

The first impression is that to enter into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Starting from the first floor, where the Milanese bakery Princi offers pastries and pizza baked on-site. At the centre, with its 17m from floor to ceiling, stands the Starbucks' biggest roaster in the world, made by copper and adorned with hand-crafted cherry blossoms.

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The second floor hosts a Teavana tea room - again the biggest in the world - with twenty different kinds of tea available. 

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On the third floor, the Arriviamo Cocktail Bar, with its refreshing coffee-based cocktails.

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Finally, on the fourth floor, it is placed an AMU Inspiration Lounge - a space for the local community to gather, as well as a platform to host creative thinkers. This element is the symbol of the radically new approach adopted in this project, where the keywords are “community” and “glocal”.

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"Amu" in Japanese means "knit together", which is also the main purpose of the new Starbucks business model, clearly expressed in the Tokyo Roastery. Starbucks is one of the first multinational brands to have understood the potential of promoting neighbourhood commercial spaces to fostering the sense of community. Starting in 2012 with the first “glocal” shop in Dazaifu Japan - designed by Kengo Kuma and inspired by the local traditional architecture - Starbucks turned its business model toward a glocal approach. Going glocal means going deep into the local cultures and traditions and getting closer to the people. It isn't a relaxed approach – especially in terms of time schedule and budget - but it pays back the investment in the long run. 

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The Tokyo Roastery is probably for Starbucks the biggest challenge in this direction so far. Everything here highlights the expertise of local craftsmen. Starting with the giant coffee cask in the centre of the shop, with its mottled surface created by the traditional technique of "tsuchime", where a small hammer establishes a pattern of indentations. Each person involved in the construction was offered to hammer a part to create its texture. Moreover, the locally sourced wood – used extensively in the origami-inspired ceiling and the other interiors - has been treated with a traditional technique to prevent ageing and to preserve brightness in the years to come.

Interview with Liz Muller

I had the chance to talk an exclusive interview with Liz Muller about the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Naka Meguro, Tokyo.


Left to right: Kengo Kuma, Matteo Belfiore, and Liz Muller.

I am interested in the glocal approach of global companies. Starbucks is one of the first multinational brands to involve the local craftsmen and communities in the design of its shops. As you already mentioned in your speech, you adopted local materials and techniques in the new Tokyo Roastery, as well as in your previous projects such as the one in Milan for example. What does it mean precisely for a big global company to become local?

"Thank you for asking this question because it is a very relevant one. Most of the international companies would mass produce the interiors elsewhere in the world, bring it to a country and install it. The outlook of Starbucks it has always been: Number one, sustainability; Number two, respecting each country and learning from the local relevance. So, being glocal is to understand your footprint and having a global reach. It also means to show up locally, to celebrate the materials, to learn from the best craftsmen. Each time I get inspired by every country, and we do each roastery as it is our first roastery. I have to say this time that Japanese craftsmanship is the most unique in the world, with all the techniques they still use today and all their beautiful materials. We studied the country and learned which region does paper, which does ceramic, which does wood. Then we brought all these elements into the roastery. At the tea floor Teavana, for example, we used this beautiful Washi paper that you can see. We want to celebrate the craft, but at the same time, it was a way for us to learn as well. So, it is a combination of being inspired and doing something better, together".

Kengo Kuma, who designed this building, is renowned worldwide for his ability to learn from the Japanese traditions and to bring it in a contemporary design. This is something we can see also in this shop, where you worked together. I would like to ask you, what exactly you learned from the Japanese craftsmen?

"It takes a lot of time to find the right craftsman to partner up with us. Firstly, you need to find the right craftsman able to deliver a premium experience and the unique design for the roastery. However, this is always difficult because we usually have a very tight timeline. We built this Roastery, including the interior, in less than a year. Working with Kengo Kuma and seeing the techniques he used, brought us the inspiration. We moved around the city, and we met all the craftsmen, then together we decided which company and which craftsman will do what. If you look at the outside of the roastery designed by Kuma, the wood is so beautiful. I wanted a modern appearance and to avoid the seat to become tarnished, so he came out with this incredible technique of glass coating that seals the colours. Then with this inspiration, we have designed a unique range of furniture for the terraces that can maintain the colours. We also tested it in the swimming pool for six months and it never tarnished. It is incredible to learn from different countries and I think no brand does like what we do. It is harder, but in the end we learn more, inspire each other’s and celebrate these techniques. In the future craft is dying out and that is sad. And maybe roasteries are the last stores to have the opportunity to bring these beautiful celebrations back. Our stores are community spaces that offer an immersive experience. Every time you come in, you can discover something new. All the staff are trained and understand why we designed, what was made here and celebrate that. So, it is storytelling and inspiration at the same time. These are life-changing projects and one of the kinds in the world. The Roastery in Tokyo can never stand anywhere else in the world to be locally relevant, it only fits here. It takes a lot of effort, but that is the right thing to do. Being socially conscious and giving back to the communities is part of what Starbucks does, and that inspires me every day and makes me a better designer".

I heard many people commenting on this roastery “This looks like Willy Wonka’s factory!” What in this project is inspired by Willy Wonka?

"(laugh) The Willy Wonka inspiration came from Howard Shultz, my partner in the creation of this beautiful journey on the roasteries. Each Starbucks Roastery is a roasting plant, and you can see what we call "symphony pipes”. We know that people love seeing things flow. There is a chain wave which grabs the coffee and then these copper pipes that go from the kettle and shoots the coffee to the bar. Willy Wonka is about imagination. I thought "let's imagine a magical kettle, and it's sitting in the middle. Imagine that it can shoot the coffee freshly roasted, and it will rain beans all over the bar, and the barista takes these beans, and he can make the freshest coffee”. You need to become a dreamer because if you don't dream, you can't design. So, that's the Willy Wonka".