Virtual Road Trip: Starbucks Stores Step Back into History in Northern Europe

The European coffeehouse tradition is steeped in centuries of history.

Coffee was first introduced in Italy in the mid-1600s by a Venetian merchant who had fallen in love with the beverage in Turkey. It quickly spread throughout the continent, with coffeehouses opening in London, Paris and Amsterdam. In the 1680s, the Dutch brought coffee northward to Scandinavia.

Although Arabian traders held the monopoly on coffee in these early days, the Dutch smuggled a coffee plant out of the Arab port of Mocha in the 1690s and became the first to transport and cultivate coffee commercially – first in Ceylon and their East Indian colony of Java (where the beverage gets its nickname). Amsterdam soon became a trading center for coffee.

From these early days, northern Europeans have embraced coffee as a social occasion, and incorporated coffee rituals throughout the day. In Scandinavia, friends and coworkers often gather for a fika – Swedish coffee break – for coffee and conversation. The Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Denmark are the top four coffee-consuming countries in the world per capita.*

Although Starbucks has had stores in Europe since 1999, the company has only recently joined the lively coffeehouse scene in the north. Starbucks was first introduced to millions of northern European customers with airport locations in 2007 starting with the Netherlands and Denmark, and later Belgium, Sweden and Norway. By 2011, Starbucks began to open stores in downtown “high streets.”

Starbucks real estate and store development manager Carijn Grassi-Manders, who grew up in the southern part of the Netherlands and now lives in Amsterdam, describes Starbucks approach to opening stores in new Northern European markets.

“When you open the first Starbucks store® in a city, you need to give the customer the whole Starbucks feeling,” she said. “The first impressions have to be right – from the view from the outside, to the feeling of the interior, to the community table where customers can gather.”

Grassi-Manders shares a few of the most distinctive new stores in the region:


The Starbucks store on Amsterdam’s Bloemenmarkt (“flower market” in Dutch) at the Singel Canal tells the story of Starbucks coffee and brings to life the market’s centuries-old history.

One of six Starbucks stores in Amsterdam, the centerpiece of the design is a large, green marble countertop which summons the grandeur of traditional canal houses. Along the back wall is a hand-painted mural of a coffee plant to honor the Dutch and their history of coffee trading, along with a large collection of vintage vases and fresh flowers.

“We try to use local artists for the artwork to get a feeling for the community and to involve them in the design,” Grassi-Manders said.


Head northeast along the North Sea through Germany and up to the Jutland Peninsula to the Kolding Fjord, and visitors can explore the charming city of Kolding, known for its rich art and culture.

In the outskirts of town, you’ll find a Bilka “hypermarket,” which is part department store, part supermarket – where shoppers can find everything from clothing to cosmetics, toys, books to fine wines and cheeses. The Starbucks store design at Bilka Kolding features pine woods and a clean design of the shell that conveys the Scandinavian aesthetic, which acts as a counterpoint to the organic darker palette in the store which represents the warmth of the Starbucks brand. This juxtaposition of light to dark also transforms the customer’s experience from the bustling public space of the hypermarket to the intimate experience of the coffeehouse.

Head east to reach the capital city of Copenhagen, which stretches across the islands of Zealand and Amager, to reach the Bilka One Stop Fields Mall. Here designers were inspired by Starbucks first store in the Pike Place Market, and incorporated vintage mercantile details with a cooler minimalist design reminiscent of Danish architecture. There are currently ten Starbucks stores across Denmark.


Travel east on the famous Oresund Bridge across the Oresund Straight and then north along the coast of Sweden to reach Oslo, Norway’s largest city and capital and Starbucks newest European market. The country now has eight stores since opening its first in 2012. Here daylight can extend up to 19 hours near the summer solstice, or “Midsummer,” and is only a few hours long during the winter. No matter the weather, customers can stop to relax in Norwegian style at the Starbucks store in the Oslo City Mall.

The design team created wooden wall cladding from oak boards, inspired by the angled wood slats of a Norwegian country fence. The store also employs floor tiles laid in the same angle as the wood fence – in a terra cotta color to create warmth with black and grey tiles mixed in to make an impact – which draws attention when looking down from the floors above.

“Scandinavia is surrounded by natural beauty,” Grassi-Manders said. “Our design brings the countryside in.”

Did You Know?

  • The northernmost Starbucks store in Europe is in Trondheim, Norway. (Latitude: 63°25′49″ N)
  • The first Starbucks in Europe was in London in 1998. First on the European mainland opened in Zurich, Switzerland in 2001.
  • Dutch people drink the most coffee per capita in the world, enjoying an average of 2.4 cups per day.*

For Your Travels

When in the Netherlands, try a stroopwafel with your coffee. These Dutch cookies are made from a thin layer of caramel syrup sandwiched by two waffle discs. Enjoy as the locals do by placing a stroopwafel atop your coffee mug and let the steam warm and soften the cookie for delicious, gooey caramel.

Our Next Stop

We’ll board a double-decker bus for a tour of this capital city – where the coffee houses were once known as “penny universities.”

* Source: Reported in The Atlantic, using data from Euromonitor.

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