Starbucks Roastery

Starbucks Roastery, Seattle

A few weeks ago I made a trip to Seattle to visit my daughter Yuki and her family. She used to work at Starbucks’ corporate headquarters, and among other projects was involved in the design and startup of the Roastery, an immersive experience in coffee, from the unroasted bean to your cup.

Of course being involved in automation, I was interested in checking out the production side of things. I have done work for coffee roasters before, and much of the automation involves the usual disciplines: temperature control, material handling, packaging, and conversion (in this case, grinding of the beans). A big difference with the Roastery is that the environment is meant for an audience and the typical factory atmosphere has been enhanced with a lot of visual and auditory packaging.

An example is this beautiful brass covering over some of the mechanisms and material handling parts of the system. From a distance the immediate impression is that it is some king of giant tank, perhaps a huge vat of coffee :-). In actuality it is just a good central eyepiece that probably just covers up some of the less visually appealing piping, motors and valves in the central part of the space.

As you can see here, many of the control, structural and material handling elements of the system have been designed to be visually appealing. Because the area is built for an audience, the conveyors have been placed in clear tubes and the SCADA control is placed in an area where visitors can see what’s going on rather than in a control room or at the control enclosure. Great pains have been taken to ensure that the operations are not loud or annoying also.

It is unlikely that in a typical factory moving machinery like this would be exposed where debris could fall into the product or someone could put their hands into the mechanism, but it does make for an excellent display. The production area is not physically accessible to the public and I’m sure this is not part of the actual supply chain.

The packaging area shown above illustrates just how clean and visually appealing a factory environment can be made to appear. If production was the main purpose of the facility there would be coffee dust all over the surfaces and people would be moving around frantically and making a lot of ruckus.

Instead there is the atmosphere of a coffee shop with people sitting around the tasting bar and shopping for coffee-related paraphernalia.

When I visited Central America in early 2012 I had the privilege of touring a coffee plantation in Boquete, Panama. I was able to taste raw coffee beans and some of the world’s best brewed coffees presented by experts in the field. I realized back then that some coffees are quite expensive and vary a lot in taste, based on how/where they are grown and roasted. While the standard Starbucks coffee is not particularly to my liking, I did see a wide variety of coffees for sale at the Roastery. I’d advise anyone who is in the area to go check it out, it is near downtown Seattle at 1124 Pike Street.

By the way, the red ones are ripe and ready to be processed.

When you take the skin off, the bean looks like this and tastes quite sweet. If you ever get a chance I highly recommend a tour of a plantation. They are usually in pretty cool parts of the world!


Electrical Engineer and business owner from the Nashville, Tennessee area. I also play music, Chess and Go.

1 Comment on “Starbucks Roastery

  1. The Roastery in Shanghai just opened recently, and there are others in progress.

    We have done a fair portion of the SCADA work for Starbucks over the past 12 years, and the Roastery uses a scaled down and simplified implementation of the Starbucks MES.

    While Starbucks did do a lot to make the roastery visually appealing, the rest of their manufacturing facilities are quite clean.