Why Starbucks’ new ‘coffee sanctuary’ in Bali reminds us more of a Disney attraction than a coffee house

 

It’s Southeast Asia’s biggest Starbucks destination — 20,000 square feet of space dedicated to all things coffee. There’s a model arabica coffee farm, a slick brew bar stocked with fancy-looking pour-overs and presses, and a themed video wall with enough nobs, buttons, and levers to keep a five-year old happy. And that’s just the ground floor.

Starbucks says that its shiny new “sanctuary” in Bali, formally known as Starbucks Reserve Dewata, celebrates coffee’s journey from seed to cup via a multi-sensory experience like no other. As you can imagine, the hype has been huge.

The first time we visited shortly after its grand opening, the place was so packed that we didn’t even stay long enough to suck up the last of our lavender latte — their not-so-locally-inspired signature drink — from our plastic sit-in cup. Yes, single-use plastic. For a cup of joe we were having in-store.

The vibe was less manic on our more recent second trip, though we still found it far from relaxing. Did someone say “sanctuary”? Because we’d go as far as to say that this Starbucks showhorse is more Disney attraction than coffee house (though maybe that’s the point).

Here’s how we came to that conclusion.

IT’S FULL OF GIMMICKY PROPS

From the rustic-look burlap coffee bean sacks scattered around the entrance to the colorful cardboard-look dioramas of coffee farmers, the place is full of props — and a lot of them err on the side of tacky.

Coffee farmer cardboard cut-outs. Photo: Coconuts Bali

We do quite like the vintage de-husking machine, though it’s allegedly so expensive that only a corporate entity like Starbucks could ever afford to buy it. There’s also a hand-carved coffee cart, modeled on Indonesia’s traditional kaki-lima street food carts, on display. But whatever you think, it’s clear that a lot of thought — maybe too much thought — has gone into these touches.

Rustic-look burlap coffee sacks are scattered around the entrance. Photo: Coconuts Bali
Rustic-look burlap coffee sacks are scattered around the entrance. Photo: Coconuts Bali

YOU’LL FEEL THE NEED TO PUBLICLY ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR VISIT WITH A SELFIE

As soon as you pass Dewata’s gilded gates, you’ll see that the people inside are more interested in filling their Instagram feeds than their stomachs.

It’s understandable. The place is extravagant and the photo ops (and props) are hard to resist. From what we could see, the top selfie spots so far seem to be at some bamboo swing chairs out front, and in the main coffee lounge, with a branded beverage of choice in hand, naturally.

On the company’s website, they promise an “an experience to remember,” and judging by the posing that goes on inside, they’ve done just that for many guests. So try and excuse all the pouting, head tilting, and pseudo-sipping.

YOU CAN FOLLOW THE SEED-TO-CUP JOURNEY VIA AN ANIMATED STORY WALL

It’s coffee production in cartoon form!  Think floating 3D-looking images, fake steam, and fun levers to pull on.

Dewata's animated story wall. Photos: Coconuts Bali
Dewata’s animated story wall. Photos: Coconuts Bali

They’ve kept the boring writing bits to a minimum and played on the senses of sight and touch with colorful animations of coffee cherries, plants, and roasting equipment, as well as interactive bits for the kinesthetic learners out there.

NO EXPENSE IS SPARED IN THE DESIGN (AND EVERYTHING MUST STICK TO THE THEME AND STAY ON BRAND)

That’s not to say we don’t like it, though.

View of the brew bar from the stairs. Photo: Coconuts Bali
View of the brew bar from the stairs. Photo: Coconuts Bali

Bali plays muse to the sanctuary’s elaborate design. Outside, meticulously positioned red bricks meld together in a facade that’s meant to mimic the waves of the island’s surrounding ocean.

Inside, the teak brew bar has been cleverly carved out to look like the famous rice fields of Jatiluwih. A vast wooden relief, apparently hand-carved by artisans in Jepara, Java, climbs some 30 foot up the wall behind. It fits the theme flawlessly, showing the traditional, everyday lives of Indonesian coffee farmers and would have likely earned those old craftsmen a good few rupiah.

Dewata's macrame wall hanging, dyed with natural coffee. Photo: Coconuts Bali
Dewata’s macrame wall hanging, dyed with natural coffee. Photo: Coconuts Bali

We’re not sure where they got the cappuccino-colored macramé hanging in the coffee lounge from, but we like it. And apparently the wooly fibers used to make it were naturally dyed with coffee.

Subtle it is not. Whether you’re a fan or not, though, Dewata’s design is pretty impressive, and a nice ode to Bali and Indonesia’s centuries-old coffee culture.

WE SUSPECT THE “WORKING” COFFEE FARM IS JUST FOR SHOW

Just beyond the concierge reception, you’ll find a plot of greenery in an area that’s about the size of an average hotel room. This is where they’re growing arabica coffee plants.

Starbucks describe this part of the property as its “working” coffee farm, but we find that hard to believe, considering arabica crops like it where it’s high, wet, and cool (read: the highlands of Kintamani, not the dusty roadsides of Seminyak).

Still, aesthetically-speaking, it’s nice to be greeted with some green, and it’s a talking point, too. Incidentally, there’s a coffee nursery upstairs which is temperature-controlled. We hold out more hope for that.

L: The signature lavender latte/ R: Coffee seedlings from the nursery upstairs. Photos: Coconuts Bali
(L): The signature lavender latte, (R): Coffee seedlings from the nursery upstairs. Photos: Coconuts Bali

YOU CAN REMEMBER YOUR VISIT WITH A SOUVENIR “BEARISTA” TEDDY

OK, fine, we secretly kind of love the “bearista” teddy bears. You can choose from the regular bear wearing a black barista apron, or go local with a barong-themed bear or Balinese princess teddy.

Dewata's merch stand. Photo: Coconuts Bali
Dewata’s merch stand. Photo: Coconuts Bali

In fact, the bears are part of an impressive merchandise display in the main space. You can also remember your Dewata experience with a branded mug, charm bracelets, Starbucks polo shirts, Bali-themed pouches and purses, and of course, bags of Starbucks coffee beans.

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So there you have it. Dewata is pulling in the visitor hordes, and we can understand why. Though we don’t think it’s for the coffee, and that makes us a little sad.

It’s true — real coffee nuts will likely love the small-batch espresso bar, though Ubud’s Seniman Coffee Studio offers a similar set-up. But, milk-based coffees get the usual Starbucks treatment, and are served in a cup fit for the BFG, with only the faintest hint of caffeine inside.

We couldn’t help leave feeling that at Dewata, it’s all about the spectacle. With all the interactive visuals, over-the-top interiors, and novel props, it’s a first for Bali, and a tourist destination in itself. So, yup, if Disney did coffee, it would look something like this. We’re just glad they spared us the mascots.

FIND IT:

Starbucks Reserve Dewata is at Sunset Road, No. 77
Open: 8am – 11pm

* We really hope the sit-in cups weren’t plastic, but some kind of plastic-like alternative material, and if the company gets back to us to confirm that they aren’t, we’ll update our article right away.

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