We Tried The Coffee Lab Experience At Starbucks, And It Was An Unforgettable Tasting Journey

For many of us, ordering and drinking coffee is a part of everyday life. We know exactly how we like our coffee: espresso or drip, iced or hot, with or without milk, or perhaps mixed with a shot or two of flavored syrup. But what if you know absolutely nothing about coffee? How do you even begin to learn or understand the nuances and coffee lingo? Coffee snobs and newbies alike can learn something from Starbucks' Reserve Signature Experiences, like Coffee Lab: A Journey of the Senses: a special class available at the Chicago, New York City, and Seattle Reserve Roastery locations. 

All you need is $45 and 45 minutes to expand your knowledge of coffee to understand how to make a better cup. I had the opportunity to attend the Coffee Lab at the Starbucks Roastery location in New York City, and I hope you'll use my findings to determine if this signature Starbucks experience is right for you.

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What is the Starbucks Reserve Coffee Lab?

While all of the Signature Experiences offered at the Reserve Roasteries are coffee-adjacent, I consider the Coffee Lab to be the brand's most "signature." At the root of everything, Starbucks is a coffee shop, and the Coffee Lab is entirely centered around coffee. From discussing different brew methods and types of beans to sharing how to best pair coffee and food, the Coffee Lab is a well-rounded coffee-drinking and learning experience that ensures each attendee will leave with a better understanding of coffee as a whole. The coffee lab is an opportunity to smell, taste, and talk about coffee in a setting that is meant to be educational rather than judgmental.

The experience kicked off on a positive note. The barista sat my group down and said, "I'll be teaching you how to taste and smell coffee the way I was taught." Immediately, I felt welcome. It was almost like the other attendees and I were part of something that only the coffee brainiacs at Starbucks were a part of, which offered an exciting and unique peek behind the curtain.

How to find your brew method like a barista

The Coffee Lab started with a discussion of brew methods. Our barista told us that deciding how to brew coffee at home is one of the most crucial steps of the coffee-drinking experience, even before deciding what beans to use. We were given samples of coffee brewed using a Chemex, a pour-over vessel. The barista noted that the Chemex filter is twice as thick as a regular filter, which allows it to catch most of the oils and sediment from the coffee beans, resulting in a cleaner, smoother sip without much bitterness. While the Chemex was his brew method of choice, there are a variety of other brew methods to look into based on your taste, budget, and time you have to brew a cup of coffee during the day.

For the traditionalist, a standard drip coffee machine is a quick and convenient method for making a lot of coffee quickly. For someone who prefers espresso, a quality machine or Moka pot will brew a more robust cup than the traditional drip method. Our barista recommended a coffee press or French press method for the coffee beginner.

"A coffee press is always the gold standard for brew methods because it's the most widely used brew method in the world," our barista explained. While the metal filter and vessel may look intimidating, it's a straightforward brew method with minimal prep and tools required.

Use these four steps to taste your coffee

The next part of the coffee lab journey is to taste, which includes four steps: smell, slurp, locate, and describe. During my Coffee Lab journey, I tasted two types of coffee: a light roast and a dark roast. I took in the aroma of the hot coffee in each cup and then discussed the aromas with the barista. The beans came with a list of aromas and tasting notes; however, I was instructed to use my own instincts to describe the flavors I found in my cup.

Next, I slurped my coffee. According to the barista, the slurping method helps to aerate the coffee, which helps cool it down and spread the flavor around the palate. A few slurps of coffee helped connect smell to taste, better understand the tasting notes, and experience all the different flavors. Lastly, I located where in my mouth and on my tongue the coffee tasted strongest and then described the feel and flavor of each cup.

Each coffee also came with a chocolate truffle from The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn, New York. While each Coffee Lab experience may sample different coffees, the truffles are always consistent. They are paired explicitly with certain beans, ensuring you get the best pairing experience each time.

How to use your newfound coffee knowledge in the real world

After I tried both coffees and truffles and discussed each coffee's aroma, acidity, body, and flavor, I talked with the barista about how to incorporate my new coffee-tasting knowledge outside the tasting room. Learning how to complement my coffee by pairing it with the right add-ons was one of the most beneficial takeaways of the Reserve Signature Experience. It showed that while drinking black coffee will give you the purest flavor, it doesn't necessarily provide the best coffee-tasting experience. You can elevate your coffee by adding different flavors and drawing out different aromas with simple additions, whether that's a drizzle of caramel, a shot of vanilla syrup, a splash of milk, or a sweet snack on the side. What you use to elevate your coffee-drinking experience is up to you.

Ultimately, the biggest lesson I took from the Coffee Lab is not to be afraid to experiment or try something new when it comes to drinking coffee. If you're a habitual black coffee drinker who wants to branch out, don't hesitate to ask for a flavor enhancement in your next coffee order. If you typically avoid the baked goods at your local coffee shop, give them a try; a coffee with nutty caramel notes can pair beautifully with a chocolate croissant or a caramelized cinnamon bun. The coffee journey is just that — a journey of discovery and something entirely of our own making.

Is the Starbucks Coffee Lab worth it?

Starbucks's Coffee Lab experience is a home run. This experience can help you decide which brew method to use at home or how to pair coffee with other foods. You can even use your newfound confidence to ask your barista questions to ensure that you get the best possible cup.

This $45-per-ticket experience, at the time of publication, can be booked on the Starbucks Reserve website, offers value beyond the two cups of coffee, and comes with truffles. It's educational and informative without being boring. It will meet you where you're at, regardless of where you are in your coffee journey. I walked out with a better understanding of coffee, from bean to cup, and how to best enjoy my beverage, whether it's from my local coffee shop or made at home.

The most impressive aspect of the Coffee Lab is its accessibility. Two to six attendees take the class at a time, so there's ample opportunity to ask questions and have meaningful discussions about coffee. The baristas know their coffee talk — this is Starbucks, after all — and there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to tasting. For the coffee informed, consider this a refresher. For the coffee newbie, the Coffee Lab experience is a way to get educated while gaining a sense of coffee confidence.