Once upon a time, Starbucks was seen as something for the caffeinated elite. Drinking its products—remember those latte-sipping liberals?—carried the suggestion of a certain social status, a willingness to pay up for better coffee than was available at a rest stop on the Interstate. Today, with more more than 21,000 stores, Starbucks is usually the coffee you find at a rest stop on the Interstate, at the grocery store, and almost everywhere else. That trajectory, from minor luxury to ubiquitous commodity, ceded the high-status, high-priced coffee game to a new generation of independent boutiques and small chains.
On Friday, Starbucks will take a major step back into the elite coffee business with the opening of its first “roastery-café” in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The desire to reclaim lost cachet is clear. Craig Russell, executive vice president for global coffee, says Starbucks is trying to “elevate the brand.”