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November 21, 2017
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Photograph by Rien Muelman.

In early March, Starbucks opened the doors of its first Amsterdam concept store, "The Bank," in busy Rembrandtplein in what was originally the historic Amsterdamsche Bank. The noteworthy cafe - not to be confused with a Dutch coffeeshop - was designed with the intent of bringing change to coffee culture on a grand scale, aiming to bring "slow" into the high-quality coffee experience.

Starbucks concept store Amsterdam
Photograph by Rien Muelman.

The Rembrandtplein location is Europe's largest at 430 square metres, but size was not the main factor that bred this innovation - and quite frankly, it wouldn't be very Dutch to say so.

The Bank makes an impression on the coffee-drinker through its charming interior, which was inspired by 17th century Dutch traders who played a vital role in the birth of a true coffee culture. Dutch-born designer and Starbucks Concept Design director, Liz Muller, headed the direction of the design, and was the creative force behind the design of the first three Starbucks concept locations in Seattle. Thirty-five local artists and craftsmen were engaged to add their personal touches to the decorative social space.

An intricate mural covering the history of Dutch trade is exposed on one wall of the café, while recycled Delft blue tiles and aged Dutch oak cover the remaining walls. An inner tube of a bicycle tire hangs as a special reminder of a very dear emblem for Dutch transportation, and genuinely, the most practical way of getting around the winding streets of Amsterdam. The final touch to your toasty coffee experience resides above - the finely crafted sculpture composed of 1,876 hand-carved wooden blocks dating back to 1876 spans across the entire ceiling space. And what's more, all construction was done under strict sustainable building regulations. Well played, Starbucks, well played.

If [the Clover coffee brewing system] proves successful, it will then be used in other Starbucks locations around Europe. It appears that the fate of Starbucks is currently in the hands of the Dutch.

This is Starbucks' vision for the future: local architecture meets "Slow Coffee Theatre" - a term that refers to the stage-like presence of the baristas at the coffee bar - to encourage interaction with Starbucks beans as the primary social lubricant. All food is baked in-store and customers who are enjoying a cup inside are promptly notified via tweets when a fresh batch of cookies has popped out of the oven. The multi-layered stage inside the location serves as a venue for local bands, potential poetry readings and cultural activities.

Despite the diverse seating areas available within the café, many clients still seem to prefer to take their drinks "to-go," most favoured by tourists and local business people on their lunch breaks. A majority of customers appear to be foreigners and visitors who may find the presence of a Starbucks comforting amongst various Dutch-branded local cafés, drawing some of the business away from neighboring coffee providers in Rembrandtplein.

Prior to the café's opening, The Contemporist concluded its review of the café by stating that, "for the Dutch, it feels very close to home." But does it really? It seems as though Starbucks is trying its best to revert back to true coffee culture - but only time will tell if its methods prove to be worthy enough for the Dutch population.

Is this the inevitable future for local cafés, as large chains begin to claim the top-spots? Should we embrace this design as a unique concept from Starbucks or is it merely an extension of its ever-expanding enterprise?

Starbucks concept store Amsterdam
Photograph by Rien Muelman.

In the end, it comes down to personal preference. Some might avoid the brand simply due to the taste of its coffee. If so, Starbucks has planned ahead and added yet another feature to The Bank concept: the "Clover" coffee brewing system may just be the most innovative player since the debut of the espresso machine. It brews a single cup of coffee each time, thus aiming to create the perfect brew. It will be tested in-store, which also functions as an experimental laboratory. If it proves successful, it will then be used in other Starbucks locations around Europe. It appears that the fate of Starbucks is currently in the hands of the Dutch.

One of the first experimental brews, Starbucks Reserve is an exclusive brew originating from a single secret origin of rare beans. Having had the golden opportunity to sample it myself, I did not experience a revival or a milestone within the boundaries of my personal coffee drinking endeavors. Instead, I had one last whiff of the nearly-burnt coffee smell that some of you might empathise with, deciding that I do prefer my local two-euro coffee after all.

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