Japan’s All-White Starbucks Will Change Everything You Think About Starbucks


A Tokyo pop-up has taken the Starbucks retail store concept to a futuristic, minimalist place that could shake up the java giant’s global development team to rethink everything they hold dear about the brand.

Inspired by coffee-lovers’ penchant for reading while sipping, Japanese design studio Nendo created a “Starbucks Espresso Journey” pop-up that looks, on the surface, like a monochromatic library — until you notice the rows of tumblers and the subtle take on Starbucks’ wordless logo. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves comprised the curved interior walls as customers perused custom-made books in nine different hues, each about a different type of espresso drink – lattes, cappuccinos or café mochas.

The desaturated shop was installed in September in the Omotesando neighborhood and open for three weeks. Visitors were invited to choose a book, take it to the counter and trade it for an espresso drink. They could also keep the book cover to insert into one of Starbucks’ customizable tumblers. It’s visually stunning and upends every expectation we bring to the Starbucks brand experience, to be sure, but still — a library?[more]

“The ‘library’ invites visitors to choose an espresso drink as they would a book, and verse themselves in espresso drinks as though quietly entering into a fictional world,” comments Nendo’s Oki Sato. “Books and coffee are both important parts of everyday life, so we created a link between favorite books and favorite coffees.”

As Nendo elaborates on its website,

Each color of book corresponds to a different espresso drink. Visitors can stroll around the space, freely pulling books off the shelves to read and choose the drink that best suits them. At the counter, visitors can trade the book for an actual espresso drink, but retain the book cover which tells them about the drink they have chosen, to use as a book cover, as they like. The reverse side of the book cover has been punched into a tall or short size tumbler insert, which can be used in a Starbucks Create Your Own Tumbler. The ‘library’ invites visitors to choose an espresso drink as they would a book, and verse themselves in espresso drinks as though quietly entering into a fictional world.

The library motif is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Starbuck’s stores elsewhere, particularly in the U.S. where as Forbes noted on the brand’s new mobile payments partnership with Square, “Starbucks now loses customers who decide they can’t wait for the five people ahead of them in line to pay with their credit card.”

As FastCoDesign pondered, “Where are the dark-green walls, pendant lighting, and communal tables? Gone, gone, and gone. The only recognizable remnant of the brand is the mermaid logo peeking out of a tiny ordering window at the back of the store. That’s a radical departure for the company, which has previously been partial to in-your-face branding.” 

Starbucks is no stranger to commissioning bold-name designers and earlier this year unveiled ‘starchitect’ Kengo Kuma’s design in Dazaifu in Japan’s Fukuoka Prefecture, which featured walls covered in a matrix of wood planks evocative of the country’s minimalist aesthetic. Kuma was inspired by traditional carpentry and the fact that the location was on the street leading to Dazaifu Tenmagu, a shrine dedicated to a Japanese deity, required an organic look and feel.

Another experiment in shop design was the chain’s first European concept store in Amsterdam, located in an underground former bank vault and decorated with all recycled or reclaimed furnishings, local artisanal elements and eco-friendly features.

While Nendo’s vision is aesthetically fresh and meant to challenge the viewer’s perception of the Starbucks brand, it raises some interesting questions: what happens to a brand when geo-local nuance prevails? Does it dilute the identity or make it smarter for the cultural sensitivity? Take a closer look at Nendo’s Starbucks interpretation and let us know what you think.