Coffeehouse chain introduces appetizers and alcohol to traditional coffee menu

Starbucks is going from chain-store to high-end café with its new Reserve Coffee Bar in the ByWard Market. The new location on York Street is unlike any other coffee shop in the city and the additions to the menu make this store a go-to stop for students.

This new Starbucks features all the usual food and drink options that you would come to expect from this coffeehouse chain. But what sets it apart from other Ottawa locations is its Evening Menu and Reserve Bar, featuring rare reserve coffee blends, five different brewing methods—none of them instant—and a wine and beer menu.

The store itself features ample seating space and a low, wooden bar where the rare blends are prepared. Its classy, upscale interior sheds the negative expectations you might have of a chain store.

For those who are used to automatically ordering a caramel macchiato or a frappuccino, the amount of reserve blends and different ways of brewing can be baffling. To give you a taste of what this new ByWard hot spot has to offer, a three-year old Sumatran coffee is currently featured on the menu, as are two small-lot blends from Ethiopia.

But the baristas here are coffee masters, and they approach the trade with as much knowledge as you’d expect from an independent, ritzy café. They can easily walk you through everything that goes into making a great cup of coffee.

Choosing your blend is only the first step. Then comes your preferred brewing method. In the world of Keurigs and instant coffee, having to decide if you really want your beans vacuum-brewed or if a pour-over will work just fine can be intimidating.

The baristas working the bar are there to walk you through every option, so that you can feel confident in your choice that the thicker filter of the Chemex really is doing wonders for your  regular pour-over filter—even if you kind of suspect you wouldn’t taste a difference anyways.

The baristas here echo the belief that making coffee is more a science than an art. Adhering to exact measurements, strict time and temperature requirements, and using high-quality brewing methods, the average cup of Starbucks coffee is elevated to a luxury level.

The Evening Menu, also unique to this ByWard location, features red, white, and sparkling wines, and craft beers. Honestly it seems an odd move to target such a small demographic—those who want to go out to the bar but for whatever reason decided to go to a Starbucks instead, a concept that Ottawa hasn’t seen before. It will definitely be interesting to see whether this is something that consumers will buy into, and whether popular chains might try to follow suit.

It doesn’t help that the Evening Menu has only one alcoholic beverage-coffee mix, a Muskoka Brewery IPA topped with espresso, which is made worse by the fact that this location won’t be introducing specialty food items for another few weeks.

But the menu still features the excellent Pike & Melrose coffee cocktail, a non-alcoholic cold brew shaken with cherry bitters that you can easily nurse for your entire stay.

While this new Starbucks may have some improvements to make in the coming weeks, it still manages to blend science and the art together beautifully for an experience that coffee lovers can’t yet find elsewhere.