It doesn't serve Frappuccinos
If you ask founder and former CEO Howard Schultz, Starbucks became the coffee powerhouse it is today thanks to an eye-opening trip to Italy in the early 80’s. Now, after thirty-plus years spent expanding its footprint around the globe, the coffee conglomerate wants to conquer perhaps its toughest market yet.
This week, Starbucks is opening its doors to Italy, a long-gestating project. Their first foray into Europe’s boot is located at Milan’s Piazza Cordusio, where the inside of a post office has been converted into a ritzy, 2,300 square foot “roastery.”
Don’t expect this to be just another place where you can drink a macchiato and buy a Norah Jones CD. Inside the space, Italy’s scrutinizing espresso fineds will find a heated, marble-topped bar staffed by an army of baristas. The space also houses a cocktail bar for those in the mood for an evening apertivo. Patrons can also catch a glimpse of the bean-to-cup process, with a six-and-a-half meter tall bronze cask used in roasting as the centerpiece for the 360-degree viewing experience.
The impressive backdrop is an attempt to repackage Starbucks in a way that respects Italian coffee culture while simultaneously nudging it in a new direction. For starters, say arrivederci to the classic Frappuccino. That and other weak coffee drinks clash too much with the country’s love of the quick, but strong, espresso pit stop.
Instead, Starbucks has crafted a menu of 115 different drinks (including its cocktail menu) designed to both suit Italian tastes and expand the country’s collective coffee palate. The hope is that the grandly designed space and wealth of options push Italians to both savor their coffee and branch out— hopefully demonstrating a willingness to pay more than one Euro for an espresso like they’re accustomed to in the process.
While some coffee shops in the area fear the competition and loathe the incursion, Federazione Italiana Pubblici Esercizi, the organization that represents Italy’s bars and restaurants, thinks the foreign invader will ultimately elevate Italy’s coffee game. “Our coffee bars are not afraid of comparison. On the contrary, it will be a stimulus to improve quality and service,” FIPE told the BBC.
With Italy collectively downing 6 billion shots of espresso a year in what amounts to a $22.4 billion market, there seems to be room for Starbucks and the old guard of Italian coffee to coexist. For now, though, whether or not their Milan experiment will give Starbucks a foothold in Italy remains to be seen.