In a first look four years in the making, today we’re taking you inside The Crown, the stunning new coffee experience complex from Oakland green coffee importers Royal Coffee.
In a world of cookie cutter coffee architecture and same-same interior design, this is the rarest thing: a new coffee project that dares to look and feel singular. Awe inspiring, grandly scaled, and utterly bespoke, The Crown sprawls across thousands of square feet in a reimagined 1920s auto showroom in the heart of Oakland’s Broadway Auto Row. The size and scope of the project bring to mind other big new coffee endeavors of the last decade, from La Marzocco’s KEXP cafe to the very first Starbucks Reserve store in Seattle. It opens to the public on March 4th.
A combination public tasting room, interconnected network of multimedia equipped training spaces, a multi-unit roasting HQ, and second-floor offices, the space’s stats stagger the mind. Two separate architecture firms served on the project: Norman Sanchez Architecture (Architect of Record) and Studio Terpeluk (Design Architect). There are more than 15 coffee grinders alone at The Crown, plus seven espresso machines and counting, all by La Marzocco and Modbar. There are Perlick fridges, Curtis water towers, Marco Uber Fonts and Uber Boilers, custom glassware from local Oakland all-Japan-everything experts Umamimart, custom ceramics by Created Co., demitasse spoons by Loveramics, custom white oak service boards designed by Tom Connelly (in collaboration with Sandra Loofbourow, The Crown’s Tasting Room Director), and custom white American oak drip trays built-ins from Saint Anthony Industries protecting a fleet of Acaia scales.
The front tasting room is anchored by an enormous custom Chambers Art & Design multi-unit modular coffee bar that can be positioned in various forms: a wave, a straight line, or a Nike swoosh. Beneath the bar there are a bank of custom floor boxes containing electronics and water lines for the espresso machines. The tasting room will be open to the public, offering a range of flights and unique experiences—”stuff that’s not regularly offered to the public,” according to Richard Sandlin of Royal Coffee, who serves as The Crown’s general manager and has helped oversee the project over its four year incubation.
Public guests can walk in and experience an ever-changing battery of farmer-focused coffee flights and tasting experiences, or pick up a quick cup for $2, with a $.25 surcharge on to-go orders (proceeds benefitting Phat Beets). Behind the bar, a pixelated green tile wall designed by Studio Terpeluk “references the color palette and texture of unroasted coffee beans,” as per Sandlin, studded with wall-mounted coffee storage jars.
Past the tasting room, a unique Nana Wall System (imported from Germany and armed with tornado proof glass) provides a unique movable wall infrastructure, allowing The Crown to break their space up into a modular series of units: one large space, four contained spaces, or any combination in-between. A bank of six mobile cupping carts provide cupping space for up to 60 slurpers, all of it built custom in West Oakland by Shada Designs.
The presentation Room has an 133” projector screen. The adjoining brew lab has a 92” projector screen.
The roasting area of the space is fitted out with no fewer than four coffee roasting units, by Proaster, Diedrich, Probat, and Loring, respectively, with custom ventwork spiring up to the top of the space’s 27-foot-high ceiling. Across the bank of spaces, The Crown will offer Q grader certification and SCA courses, as well as tech training, equipment training, and roasting training.
There is no toll roasting. No comfy couches. No public WiFi, no food, and no whole bean sales at The Crown.
If, like me, you are gobsmacked by all of this, have no fear—we’ve been checking in on this project since it was announced in late 2015, and I’m still trying to process what this space means, what it’s supposed to be, and what an independent project of this scale and scope means right now for coffee. For their part, Royal envisions The Crown as nothing less than world-building—an attempt to shrink down the global footprint of coffee into something more accessible, collaborative, public, and open source. “We want to be a bridge to where coffees come from,” says Royal CEO Max Nicholas-Fulmer.
The company sees it as a fight against proprietary knowledge; that by creating a space where the coffee industry is invited to collaborate, they can appeal to a new generation of coffee professionals, especially roasters. They also see it as offering a resource for customers who can’t travel to origin, or even to a coffee competition. The presentation and events space is a major hub for that. “This is for producers to come present here and connect with customers who can’t go,” Nicholas-Fulmer told me during an advance tour of the space. Sometimes those producer presentations will happen digitally, and other times for in-person sessions and events between California coffee pros and coffee producers around the world. “We think this space can increase the knowledge flow between the two.”
“We’re building something that doesn’t fit into an easy category,” says Sandlin. “Is it a roaster? An education and events space? A cafe? Yes.”
“We want this to be a community space for all different kinds of communities,” Tasting Room Director Sandra Loofbourow adds. “Cheese, meat, marijuana, wine. A home for all things delicious.”
For Nicholas-Fulmer, an Oakland native stepping into a CEO roll at a company founded decades ago by his father and uncle, there is clearly a local point of pride invested deep into the project. “We’ve been conceptualizing The Crown for years and our priority was to execute the vision properly, which meant a high level of customization and allocating the time and resources to do so,” he tells Sprudge. “We look at The Crown fundamentally as an investment in our customers and producing partners. Having a venue for producers to showcase their coffees and an educational program which supports the growth and success of our customers is the foundation of Royal’s next 40 years in business.”
Members of the general public can get their first glimpse of The Crown on Monday, March 4th, and the Tasting Room will be open Monday thru Friday from 9am-6pm. A series of cupping events are scheduled following opening day, including a Costa Rica event on March 19th and standing weekly events on Tuesday and Thursdays. A complete listing of upcoming events is available via The Crown’s official website.