As experiments go, this one isn't flashy. But the success -- or failure -- of one Starbucks cafe on the edge of a trendy Seattle neighborhood could ripple through the nation's coffee house industry.
Because where Starbucks goes, others follow.
Dubbed ''Olive Way,'' the store is the biggest percolator yet for ideas that the world's largest coffee company has been testing separately at nearly a dozen locations around the globe. And what succeeds at Olive Way will most likely be spread to other Starbucks stores around the country.
With muted, earthy colors, an indoor-outdoor fireplace, cushy chairs, and a menu with wine from the Pacific Northwest's vineyards and beer from local craft brewers, this 2,500-square-foot shop in the Capitol Hill neighborhood will reopen in the fall with espresso machines in the middle.
''It's going to feel very different,'' said Kris Engskov, Starbucks' regional vice president.
The machines at Olive Way will be part of what executives call a coffee theater. Counters will be narrower -- a slim as a foot in some places -- to bring customers closer to baristas; the machines will brew one cup at a time to extract deeper flavor from beans.
The store will be the chain's only location that sells beer and wine in the U.S., though another Seattle test cafe that doesn't carry the Starbucks brand began selling alcohol last year. The menu at Olive Way will be bigger, full of savory foods that pair with coffee, wine and beer. And customers will be able to customize the offerings, some of which will be freshly made.
The decor is to offer a departure from Starbucks' sometimes formulaic green-and-tan -- with local artists' work, regionally reclaimed building materials, a community work table and a meeting area set off by a sliding door.
As at any restaurant chain using its stores as real-life laboratories, there's no guarantee every idea from Olive Way will be successful or be implemented across the company. Officials wouldn't say how much is being spent on the effort, or how soon elements might expand to other locations.