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Originally published | Page modified July 24, 2009 at 11:46 AM

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Starbucks offers first peek at its not-a-Starbucks café

The Starbucks that isn't a Starbucks — officially called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea — opens Friday morning to glaring media attention and anticipation from customers and competitors.

Seattle Times business reporter

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The Starbucks that isn't a Starbucks — officially called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea — opens Friday morning to glaring media attention and anticipation from customers and competitors.

"It's a really cool concept," said customer Scott Christensen, of Puyallup, who took a picture of the cafe's sign Thursday afternoon and posted it to Twitter.com. "The culture is pushing back from the corporate establishment and moving toward more organic, small business."

Inside, an ABC news crew prepared a national broadcast about the new Starbucks store that's so heavily focused on its locale that it shed its corporate name. CNN, BBC and a host of other media canvassed the city for reactions from local coffee-shop operators.

15th Avenue Coffee and Tea is the latest in a string of stores that Starbucks has remodeled in a more rustic style using recycled materials. The Capitol Hill store — which last year was slated to close — is also part of a test that will include two more Seattle shops named for their surrounding neighborhoods. Those locations could be in existing Starbucks stores or in new spaces.

The test stores will sell a rotating menu of beer (roughly $4 to 5 a bottle) and wine (about $5 to $7 a glass), along with coffees, teas and food not found at most Starbucks locations.

Items that Starbucks customers recognize — like a cappuccino — will cost a little more than they do at a regular Starbucks stores, said Major Cohen, project manager for the test program. He guessed they're 5 to 10 cents higher.

Die-hard Frappuccino fans will have to go elsewhere, because 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea will not serve those or other blended beverages.

Cohen gave other examples of what will set the new shop apart from most Starbucks stores:

• Bread and pastries from Essential Baking Co. rather than Starbucks' new pastry lineup.

• Limited-time offers of coffee and tea that aren't available in quantities large enough for all Starbucks stores, such as a "Brasil Blend" that has been sold only at Starbucks stores in Brazil.

• Restaurant-style food that will eventually include a platter of Beecher's Handmade Cheeses from Pike Place Market, an open-faced smoked-salmon sandwich, sardines and Starbucks-branded ice cream.

• Daily coffee tastings at 10 a.m.

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• Live entertainment including music, poetry and actor line readings.

• Espresso pulled from one of Starbucks' old manual La Marzocco machines, which were phased out a decade ago in favor of automated models that work at the push of a button. Because Starbucks doesn't have many of those machines in stores, baristas for 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea were trained at Visions Espresso Service's Coffee Enhancement Lounge in Seattle.

• Brewed coffee made using French presses, old-fashioned ceramic-drip systems and a Clover machine, which is basically a semiautomatic French press that allows baristas to set the temperature and brew time for individual cups of coffee.

15th Avenue's ambience is similar to its newly remodeled stores in University Village and outside Pike Place Market, which in turn resemble the rustic, old-time coffeehouse vibe of its oldest existing store inside the Market.

The 15th Avenue store's community table, which easily fits 10 to 12 people, has a surface that came from a wooden ship; other wood around the store was salvaged from a barn. Barbed-wire lampshades above the table were left to rust — for effect — in Lake Washington, and the coffee bar came from Starbucks' old University Village store.

One wall at 15th Avenue is papered with excerpts from Plato's dialogues, which Starbucks director of global-concept design Liz Muller hopes will inspire conversation.

Talk about the store so far has focused on why Starbucks is reducing its presence to fine print — "Inspired by Starbucks" — and possibly mimicking its neighbors.

Linda Derschang, who owns the restaurant and bar called Smith next door, said she wishes Starbucks had talked to her before painting its storefront the same color — brown — as hers.

Even the owner of a nearby hair salon was concerned after hearing that the coffee shop would include discarded theater seats. A media tour revealed that the hard wooden theater seats lining the walls of 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea are far different — and less cushy — than the red velvet upholstered seats at The Red Chair Salon.

Still, salon owner Howie Sennet thinks Starbucks should stop borrowing ideas from its neighbors.

"Authenticity can't be bought or copied," he said. "They should use this as a lesson to find their own identity within themselves."

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

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