Italy’s first Starbucks opens today in Milan, a city where bars are many and coffee is difficult to top.
Since its introduction in the 1500s, coffee has developed its own culture in Italy where days are defined by rituals conducted by devotees, who believe a real espresso or cappuccino tastes very different to the chain’s offerings.
How then, does an American giant like Starbucks make it’s foray into the motherland of coffee? It goes for the cover-all-bases approach so instead of trying to prove it can do coffee well, it tries to do coffee, pastries, ice cream and the classic Italian aperitivo well too, all whilst cleverly tapping into the country’s love of design.
The “clacker board” is shown at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan, Italy on Sunday, August 02, 2018. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
It starts with a location – a historic building on Milan’s grandiose Piazza Cordusio that has according to Starbucks CEO, Howard Shultz, been designed with “painstaking detail and great respect for the Italian people and coffee culture”. This Starbucks will be distinctly different in its offering as the milanese branch will be the brand’s third reserve roastery and, like its last which opened in Shanghai, will comprise a space dedicated to the experience of coffee.
On the floor a mosaic technique, handcrafted in the Palladian style, a historic technique particular to northern Italy and hand-laid by local artisans. one of the marbles used in the flooring is called Candoglia, which comes from a quarry owned by the citizens of Milan and, until very recently, used exclusively for the duomo of Milan and buildings in the surrounding piazza. for the first time Starbucks has also used marble in its bar tops (sourced from Tuscany), in an effort to echo the espresso bars that feature it across Milan.
Starbucks barista Cecilia Cacciatore operates a nitro ice cram maker at the Affogato Station at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan, Italy on Monday, August 03, 2018. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
Inside it offers a 360-degree look at the craft and science of coffee roasting, letting customers walk around the equipment used throughout every stop of the process. From the roaster, to the cooling tray, to the de-gassing chamber and the packing line, the space is filled with theatricals that could be lost on the Italian who is used to walking into a standup coffee bar, drinking their shot of coffee and leaving. On the other hand (and this is clever of Starbucks), this insight into production could do well in winning them over. Half the game in getting an Italian on side is to certify a premium level of care and attention has been taken when it comes to the quality of a product, justifying Starbucks’ decision to offer something more than counter service.
What is most clever about Starbucks’ approach to breaking the Italian market is its attempts to demonstrate a rounded understanding of the country’s culture. Beyond coffee and design, the Milan roastery’s “Arriviamo Bar” offers cocktails and delicacies inspired by the Italian apertivo (that’s enjoying a drink in the early evening with nibbles). Elsewhere it hosts a Princi bakery (a Milan-born bakery dedicated to tradition and ancient techniques) and an affogato station where ice cream is made to order in single batches, which partners create by combining the cream base with liquid nitrogen.
Paolo Gadalet, the president of the Italian Espresso National Institute, said: “We are really happy that a large company like Starbucks is coming to Italy, because we think that the coffee it serves is not like an Italian espresso but is still coffee that tastes good”.