The truth is, I was never a coffee person. I’d step into a cafe on a freezing day and walk out with a hot chocolate. Bubble tea was my rescue when it was hot out. But college life and the pervasiveness of Starbucks changed all of that, partly because I could use my dining dollars there (excellent partnership on that note).
I stayed true to my hot cocoa at the start, till I discovered the sugar rush in a frapp and how energizing a concoction of steamed milk and espresso shots can be. Then I ventured into matcha and chai to satisfy the Asian in me. The tall became a Grande, and soon enough, I was a Venti convert on 1-for-1 days.
Starbucks became my usual hangout to chill with a cuppa, to catch up with friends, to tap on Wi-Fi for project work, to laugh at how badly the baristas spell our names, or simply to identify a landmark for groups to meet. Starbucks sells, not its products, but the experience. That’s where Howard Schultz demonstrates his brilliance by marketing the chain as the Third Place, providing you with all the comforts of a home and an office.
Though Schultz has left, the experience lives on. The chain has now given birth to upscale Reserve outlets, and its stores aim to embody the distinctive culture of every country that it sets foot in. Be it the design of the shopfront or the range of merchandise sold, each country and, sometimes, even each city has its unique offerings. Which Starbucks outlets are worth the flight? Here’s our list of 25 to check out.
25 The Cafe That Moves In Zurich, Switzerland
It’s 6:36 am. Grab some coffee, find a seat, and you’re good to go. Wait… go where? Welcome to the cafe that moves! Starbucks really embraces the value of human connection, and in this case, literal connectivity across the city. Presenting Starbucks’ first train cafe where commuters can chill by counter seats while surfing on their laptops, making productive use of their train journey across the city. The train accommodates 50 people and is split into two levels. Commuters on the first level may enjoy their beverages at the standing bar, while commuters on the second level can laze in a lounge setting. To highlight the Swiss reputation of precision, special dials resembling watch faces are built into the tables upstairs, each with a number on it to facilitate ordering. A commute doesn’t seem too bad now, does it?
24 Go Local In Medellín, Colombia
Local coffee farmers are pleased. Why export their beans when they can drop their beans off at a Starbucks store just 60 miles away? Colombian beans have a sweet nutty and chocolatey tone, which makes for the perfect mocha. This are the beans that appeal to most North Americans, so it is no wonder that Starbucks would let the locals have a taste of their own produce. From ethically sourced beans, Starbucks has moved into growing local as well. Good for them, great for the farmers and best for the consumer. The murals are painted by a Colombian artist, while the furniture is designed and manufactured by a local firm. There’s even a living green wall to remind you of how fresh the beans are.
23 Go Back In Time In Chengdu, China
It is incredible how Starbucks has slowly transformed the tea-drinking population in China to becoming caffeine lovers. Their entrance to the Chinese market have been closely-watched by many, and the brand has clearly earned the Chinese stamp of approval. Here’s American culture encased in an oriental shopfront. The only modern items are the spotlights and and the Starbucks signs. The gabled roofs, the wood-framed windows and the wooden doors take you back to the era where emperors ruled. For alfresco seating, feel free to set up your seating area under the big familiar green umbrella. That’s as green as the brand can get without having to affect the area’s original ambience. Otherwise, take a stool and camp by the door. Don’t worry, you won’t have to bow to guests.
22 The Train That Does Not Move In Copenhagen, Denmark
What happens when a brand loves history and trains? They would build a store out of a historical train station. While this concept is not new, it still charms commuters. As you enter this outlet, prepare to be greeted by high ceilings, low brown chairs and small coffee tables. Where the store lacks in space, it wows in architecture. Theatrical wooden arches that used to demarcate ticketing stations now outline the glass display counters and the register. If you are not soaked into caffeine, soak in the atmosphere. A rustic aura and the smell of fresh roasts permeate the entire store, juxtaposed by the speedy service and modern merchandise decked out at the corner. For a city that prides itself on public transport, this is a quick go-to place to kickstart the day.
21 Drink And Shop In Chicago, US
Retail outlets and cafes should always go hand-in-hand, as partners of shopaholics would agree. Picture Starbucks and Uniqlo. This is where your partner and children can have all the time in the world to shop, while you indulge in a comforting latte. That probably beats any thermal wear you might find. Snag a corner seat to watch cars buzz through the Magnificent Mile, and smile at how relaxed you feel in contrast. The design of the store is simple - wooden benches of various heights are laid out symmetrically. Crouch over the higher bench, or lay your feet out over the lower ones. You might not stay comfy for long though, as the wooden seats prove to be a tad too hard to tide over a long wait.
20 Listen To The Locals In Ubud, Bali
No flashy signs. No glass buildings. No jarring murals. It was no to almost anything Western to the residents in Ubud, which has received an influx of expatriates of late. Ubud residents are firm about maintaining their natural, traditional, slow pace of life, and they would not let corporate America taint that image. But Starbucks listened. They took over a vacant building that was previously used as a temple storehouse. The bright green and white Starbucks sign was replaced by wood carvings. And they were right. For tourists who visit Bali for its serenity, they’d want to be surrounded by the simple life. You can choose to watch a Balinese dance while sipping on a macchiato, or walk along the platform with a lotus pond on either side. Let your hair down as you trek through the Ubud Village next door. Enjoy the feeling of zen.
19 Find Your Connection In Utrecht, Netherlands
Wooden tables, modern chairs, an outdoor patio, a community table and flowers everywhere. This is Starbucks’ first outlet in Utrecht, and it sure welcomes customers with open arms. The creation of opportunities to interact is intentional, so that people may bond over coffee rather than stuff their faces with screens. So is the deliberate move to bring people closer to nature. The glass windows that separate the cafe from the sidewalks in most parts of the world are removed here. Breathe in the smell of flowers, listen to the footsteps of people walking by and the revving of engines, and enjoy the scenery that lies before you. The brand knows that it takes a little effort to pause and ponder, and they’ve built it in to remind you that you deserve a time-out.
18 Take Your Shoes Off In Kyoto, Japan
This machiya, a two-storey Japanese townhouse, was built more than a century ago. The Japanese are known for having one of the longest life span in the world, so it’s befitting for a store to find its place in history. Behind the noren curtains lies a store framed with wooden walls and lain with tatami mats on the second floor - no shoes allowed. Enter the dark hallway before you place your order at the counter, then make your way towards wherever that’s bathed in natural light. Walk past the courtyard with a zen garden and stone water basins, or laze on the zabuton cushions upstairs while admiring the view outside. Finding a seat is not easy and your patience will be severely tested, so pop by when the store opens at 8 am for entry is limited when the shop is full.
17 Bask In Elegance In Paris, France
Navigating cobblestoned paths on heels without tripping over? Only the French can do it. That’s why they’re known for their elegance - it is all in their clothes, their desserts and their bakes. Starbucks went all out with the French exquisiteness and grandeur when they fully restored 19th century murals and motifs in a converted 17th century courtyard. Everything has to be true to its heritage, yet classy enough to fit the French. It almost feels like you have walked into the Palace of Versailles, except that aroma of coffee permeates the room furnished with bespoke tables and chairs. Not forgetting the chandeliers and the dark panels that work together to create a dim and cosy ambience, ideal for a casual yet romantic date. The French have taste, and so does Starbucks.
16 Drink Lattes Off Walls In Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya, Thailand
Latte art does not only exist in a cup, it exists on the wall too. Here’s Thailand’s take on latte, a representation of welcoming the new yet retaining the old. When you enter through a modern floor-to-ceiling glass wall, you are immediately presented with an art installation of locally-sourced bamboo baskets painted with latte art. Looking at the store from the side, it is as if the store has two worlds merged seamlessly into one. “The Tireless Pursuit Of All Things Coffee” is calligraphed on the wall, a tribute to the man hours and people involved from sourcing the beans to delivering a good cup of caffeine. If you haven’t, it’s time for you to appreciate the finer things in life and the people around you.
15 Get Messy With Moss In Georgia, US
Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia, US. The large number of oak trees that populate the area contributed to the city’s title as the “Forest City”. Spanish moss and eerie graveyards add to the eccentricity of the area, and so, any defining Starbucks outlet located there needs the spook element. What better than to have moss-draped tree branches hanging from the ceiling, threatening to reach into your cup of coffee when you look away? Even the world map in the background has to be in grayscale, for you never know where you might end up if you stay till nightfall. Putting on an alternative lens, this outlet celebrates dark art with installations that encapsulate the feel of the city. You cannot walk out of the store without feeling a little intimidated, but maybe the cuppa would have helped.
14 Catch A Show In Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Heading to the movies? Why not check out the defunct Cine Odeon theater that first opened in 1926? Since then, the location has been converted into a cultural and performing arts theater. Although the set has modernized, Starbucks still goes retro with its simple wooden chairs and small square coffee tables. The green and white motif is seen in its curtains and sofas, while the alternating patterns on the tiles scream classic. Picture ladies in long pastel dresses and sun hats, sitting cross-legged on these stools and sipping a cuppa, engaged in long conversations with their besties. Or imagine their children frolicking around the cafe playing catch. Those were the days where play and talk were digitally-detached, days that we should reminisce and possibly replicate.
13 Game On The Graffiti In Fuzhou, China
The intellectual rebel would love this outlet the most. Inspired by the Chinese board game, wei qi, glass walls are interspersed with lines of black and white circles, exuding the scholarly vibe that is still being sought after in the country. While the tradition is to face off with your peers over a pot of well-brewed tea, swap that to some cold brew and let the competitive side of you rest for a bit. On the other side, the words “Starbucks Coffee” are splashed over the wall, still adhering to the black and white theme. Elsewhere, wooden chair sand stools are embellished with fluffy white pillows and seat cushions to introduce a contemporary touch. Considering the brand’s love for mix-and-match, it wouldn’t be surprising to find some fusion drink on their menu, too.
12 Weave Your Way Around New Delhi, India
With 3,500 square feet, the first store in India’s capital has no lack of space. Walls are made of bare cement surrounding displays of local woven craft. A long communal table stretches across the centre of the store, armed with movable grey chairs for you to huddle or go solo. A map of India is plastered on the wall, signalling the growth of coffee culture in the country. In a city of spice, you’ve got to try experimental creations like the Lal Achari Mirch Turnover (potato, cheese and pickled red chilli in a croissant), the Murg Kathi Wrap (a flour tortilla filled with chicken pieces) and the Murg Makhani Pie. Pair that with a cup of chai perhaps, and let the milk simmer down the heat.
11 Big Is The Best In Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai has the biggest and the best. Possibly the grandest of all Starbucks stores in the world, this outlet calls the world’s largest themed mall, Ibn Battuta Mall, home. Spotlights reflect the brilliance of the yellow and blue mosaic-tiles from the dome-shaped ceiling, congregating everyone’s attention towards the chandelier, and then towards the bar counter that is placed dead centre in the circular space. The dome theme is repeated for each entrance that surrounds the cafe to welcome customers wandering it from every direction, though the seating area may be small compared to the number of people they receive. Walk closer and you’d realize that its entrance is at least five times the size of you. There is no way that you can leave Dubai without the feeling of being engulfed in massiveness.
10 Still Domed Up In Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
So, Starbucks is obsessed with history and the dome. And that’s why Egypt has both! Tame during the day, the store comes alive at sunset when its brand name is perhaps one of the brightest objects in the area, apart from the dim street lamps. This outlet is half-walled in glass, with curtains drawn to prevent excessive heat from driving customers away. A stairwell leads you to the second floor, where you can look out in any direction just like you would on an observation deck. Palm trees dot the ground surrounding the store to inject a beachfront vibe, conditioning your mind a little before you make your way to the Red Sea nearby. If coffee is not up your alley, consider the ceramic Sharm El Sheikh mugs, for they are only available in the city, and they sell.
9 Enjoy The Beach View In Willemstad, Curacao
Going to the beach is an everyday tourist affair in most, if not all, Caribbean Islands. The difference in Curacao is that for those who’d like to escape the heat, there is always an air-conditioned Starbucks awaiting your arrival. This outlet is located in the heart of the Curacao Beach Resort, a prime spot for vacationers who wish to relax and spend some money. You won’t have to give up people-watching if you decide to chill on a frapp thanks to the store’s elevated perch that offers you a 360-degree view of the ocean and the shore. The blue roof and wooden frames replicate the feel of a patio and the brightness of beachgoers. So whether or not you’re taking a dive, at least swim up for a caffeine boost or a sight of everything down below.
8 Enter A Spa In Casablanca, Morocco
Leave the tension behind as you close your eyes, sink into your armchair and listen to the flow of water from the fountain behind you. You have arrived at Franklin Roosevelt Villa, and the last thing you’d want to do is to check your work communications. Cast your device aside and take in the effort put into landscaping the area. The trees are trimmed prim and proper, while the plants are placed in an orderly fashion lining the row of canopies. It doesn’t matter if you’re single or if you’re travelling in a group. The portable seats allow you to enjoy the flexibility of sitting right under the sun, closer to the greens or next to the water. Let your worries fade away as you bask in tranquility.
7 Feel Like Royalty In Prague, Czech Republic
Your majesty and your highness, welcome to Prague Castle! Before you set off touring around one of the largest ancient castles in the world, arm yourself with a cuppa and let the panoramic view of Old Town Prague amaze you. The red-tiled roofs and green domes of the city at your feet makes Starbucks fit right in. Standing by the cliff is exhilarating, not because of the caffeine, but because you’d feel like the world is in your hands. The adventurous would even snag a seat right at the edge of the stone terrace, so families, make sure your kids are always in sight. For those with a fear of heights, there is lower terrace where you still can take glamorous shots against the scenic backdrop. After all, there should be nothing stopping the royalty from getting what they wish for.
6 Save Your Secret Stash In Rembrandtplein, Amsterdam
Have too much cash to spare? Why not spend it at ABN Amro Bank down the street? The 430 square meter subterranean quarters has all the feels of the now-defunct bank punctuated by the whiff of caffeine. If not for the coffee, just come for the view. But for the hardcore caffeine lovers, you’d be pleased to discover that this Dutch store is a coffee laboratory to test alternative brewing methods. Have your say in what makes and what breaks, for the best drinks in Amsterdam get rolled out to the whole of Europe. The Delft tiles, bicycle inner tube walls, Delft murals and furniture recycled from Dutch oak add to the explorative vibe. The ceiling trumps it all with its 1876 pieces of individually-cut oak wood blocks.