The Tourist Trap In Seattle Coffee Lovers Need To Avoid (And Where To Go Instead)

When you visit Seattle, you might be tempted to check out the "original Starbucks" at 1912 Pike Place. The first store was a landmark of coffee culture, given how far its business has come since it opened in 1971. With over 35,000 locations around the globe (and a projection of 55,000 by 2030), Starbucks has succeeded in its quest for world domination, making its double-tailed mermaid siren logo a ubiquitous sight. The lure of Pike Place Market for some customers is that it's ground zero for the biggest coffeehouse chain on earth.

Day after day, people line up outside the 1912 address, eager to drink a piece of coffee history, Seattle-brewed. When you get there and see the line stretching out the door and down the block, you may realize that a good many other tourists had the same idea about visiting the original Starbucks. There's just one problem with this picture, aside from the wait and the relative anticlimax of entering the small, run-of-the-mill store. While everyone in line might have the right general location for the first Starbucks, this one opened in 1976. It's technically the oldest surviving Starbucks, not the first.

As The Seattle Times notes, the original '71 Starbucks location is gone. Its address, 2000 Western Ave., doesn't exist anymore. In its place is the restaurant Seatown Rub Shack & FishFry. For travelers who are determined to get their Starbucks on in Seattle, a better attraction might be the city's one and only Reserve Roastery.

Ditch 1912 Pike Place for the Starbucks Reserve Roastery

Some travelers may scoff at the idea of visiting any Starbucks when Seattle has so many other great local coffee shops. If you want a cool visual experience to go along with your morning pick-me-up, however, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery delivers the caffeine jolt with a behind-the-scenes look where the coffeemaking exists side-by-side with the coffee drinking. This is a little different than just peeking over the counter at your local Starbucks as they ready your order. You may have noticed an ever-changing lineup of Reserve label selections on offer there. This is one of the shipping points of origin for that brand of rare coffees, sourced from small international farms with limited supplies.

Beans are roasted right on the premises in mixing vats and then routed to storage silos via a system of pneumatic tubes overhead. The roastery likens itself to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, and its spacious, wiry interior even holds the kind of copper cask you'd see on the Wonka Mobile. In this case, however, you've got exotic (if somewhat pricey) coffees substituted for the usual Everlasting Gobstoppers. You still might be left gobsmacked as you look up and see the tubes delivering beans into "hoppers" behind the main bar, where they're bagged or brewed and served to customers in-house. You can pull up a stool and do a coffee flight, sampling multiple types, or you can head over to the mixology bar for a silky espresso martini.

One of only six worldwide

Compared to 1912 Pike Place, which is just a 6-minute cab ride away, the Reserve Roastery in Seattle is still the new Starbucks on the block. However, while the building may hold less history, its next-level design and the experiential aspect of visiting it arguably offset that. The sights and sounds of its inner workings almost give it the impression of a huge organism that lives just to keep the coffee beans flowing everywhere.

As of this writing, there are only five other Reserve Roasteries worldwide: Shanghai, Milan, New York, Tokyo, and Chicago. The Seattle version, perched on the corner at 1124 Pike Street, was the first to open in 2014. In addition to the roastery's signature microblend, and brews from places like Sumatra and Costa Rica, the menu offers unique coffee creations like the Nitro Almondmilk Mocha and Whiskey Barrel-Aged Cold Brew. There's also a scooping bar where you can buy fresh beans to-go, while the Italian bar Princi serves artisanal pizzas and other food.

Visiting the oldest surviving Starbucks in Seattle bears a certain novelty, but the time you spend waiting in line at 1912 Pike Place to get your customary Frappuccino might not be worth it. Since the surrounding market is one of many free things you can do in Seattle, you could always swing by just to snap a picture of the sign in the window. Then, head over to the Reserve Roastery to explore one of the largest Starbucks locations ever built.