Starbucks opens first cafe in Italy amid scepticism and curiosity in the crucible of coffee-drinking culture

Italians reacted with a mixture of curiosity and disdain to the opening of the country’s first Starbucks café, as the American giant launched its bid to conquer the cradle of coffee-drinking.

Billed by the company as “the most beautiful Starbucks in the world,” the café is due to open on Friday in an historic building in Piazza Cordusio in Milan, not far from the city’s imposing Duomo and La Scala opera house.

In a nation where the espresso, the cappuccino and the macchiato are regarded as almost holy totems, there were some who saw the arrival of the company that brought the world Salted Caramel Frappuccinos and Cinnamon Dolce Lattes as an abomination.

But others welcomed the arrival in Milan of the Seattle-based chain, saying it offered such a different product to Italy’s tens of thousands of cafes and bars that it did not present a threat to the country’s entrenched coffee-drinking culture.

Italians tend to drink their coffee standing at the bar, downing tiny thimblefuls of dark black espresso or cups of foamy cappuccino in just a few minutes.

The new Starbucks is in an historic building in central MilanCredit:
Luca Bruno/AP

Asking for takeaway coffee is almost unheard of and Italians are rarely to be seen in the street slurping from Styrofoam cups.

The new café is described as a “Reserve Roastery” and was touted by Starbucks as “the crown jewel” of its business empire.

Howard Schultz, its former CEO and now chairman emeritus, who quit the company in June amid rumours that he might run for the White House in 2020, said the firm was approaching the Italian market with “humility and respect”.

While some Italians are looking forward to using the free wi-fi, others remain unconvinced about the appeal of Skinny Peppermint Mochas and Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

An employee prepares a coffee inside the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery flagship in MilanCredit:
Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

"I really don’t like Starbucks coffee," Simone Dusi, 35, who lives in Milan, told AFP. "I like strong coffee (so) absolutely no way to diluted coffee or variants like Frappuccino.”

The US company plans to open another four cafes in Italy by the end of the year.

That is not a prospect that excites Paola Fabriani, 42, who runs a café in Rome’s historic centre.

“I don’t think it will take off at all,” she said, pulling a face at the thought of large cups of milky coffee and flavoured cream.

“We Italians have a totally different coffee-drinking tradition. We stand at the bar and we’re not used to all that sugar and caramel. People will go there to begin with out of curiosity but I think the novelty will wear off,” she told The Telegraph.

The inside of the new Starbucks in MilanCredit:
Luca Bruno/AP

Others recoiled at the cost of Starbucks’ coffee.

“It’s a shame that the price of an espresso is so high, around 80 per cent more than the average in Milan,” said Massimiliano Dona, the president of the National Union of Consumers.

A Starbucks espresso will cost €1.80 while a cappuccino costs €4.50, more than twice the amount in an average Italian bar.

Alexandre Loeur, an analyst at Euromonitor International, said: "Cracking the home of coffee culture is a tough challenge, with many Italians deriding the move as ridiculous.”

But "while snobbery might initially prevail, the younger generations are more open to the type of specialty coffee offered by the Seattle-based brand," he said.

Starbucks had a turnover of more than $22 billion last year. It has nearly 29,000 cafes in 77 countries, including 12,000 in the US and 3,300 in China.

The new outlet in Milan has created nearly 300 jobs, the company said.

“We’ve taken our time to ensure our entry into Italy is done thoughtfully and respectfully,” said Kevin Johnson, chief executive.

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