Starbucks fulfills its Italian dream. Italians are yet to be enchanted

Caffè Americano.
Caffè Americano.
Image: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
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Starbucks is making its grande entrance into the Italian market by opening a palatial café in the heart of Milan. The new Reserve Roastery, which boasts heated marble-top counters and a mezzanine-level cocktail bar, is also the culmination of a dream for Starbuck’s founder, Howard Schultz.

When Schultz first announced the company’s plans to open in Italy, during the Seed & Chips global food summit in May this year, he said that a trip to Milan in 1983 inspired the vision for Starbucks. “My imagination was captured by Italian coffee,” he said. Starbuck’s press release for the opening also called it “a full-circle moment ”(and “steeped in sacrifice, tears, passion,” no less).

Despite the grandeur and grand meaning of the new Roastery, some locals are skeptical of choosing Starbucks coffee over their neighborhood cafés.

“I’ve tasted Starbucks coffee and I’ll absolutely stick to Italian coffee,” Giulia Brighenti told the Associated Press.

When Bloomberg interviewed several Italians to get their reactions to Starbuck’s Milan debut, some seemed even more doubtful. “Is Starbucks even coffee?” one person asked. Another said, “Americans don’t know how to make coffee.”

Alexandre Loeur, an analyst at Euromonitor International, told AFP that “cracking the home of coffee culture is a tough challenge, with many Italians deriding the move as ridiculous.” Loeur added, however, that “while snobbery might initially prevail,” the specialty coffee offered by Starbucks might eventually do well “in the medium to long term.”

Starbucks is aware it is entering a discerning market. Liz Muller, Starbucks’ chief design officer, told the AP the company is “not coming to Italy to teach people about coffee. This is where coffee was born.” Instead, Starbucks will focus on providing “a premium experience that is different to what people in Italy are used to.”

The Italians who run surrounding cafés—that on average will charge only half of Starbuck’s asking price for an espresso—are hoping that the locals will stick to their neighborhood spots.

“I expect my clients to be faithful to me, but tourists will surely go to the roastery,” barista Federico Castelmare told Reuters.