Starbucks, the American cafe giant, has announced ambitious plans to open as many as 300 branches in a country that takes its coffee incredibly seriously, Italy.
Two cafes, Starbucks's first in the country, will launch in Milan and Rome in summer next year, followed by four more in the same week across both cities, with a view to open hundreds by 2023 “if the market responds well”, according to Antonio Percassi, the former footballer turned entrepreneur behind the venture who announced the plans at a press conference in Milan this week.
Italy’s cafe culture was the inspiration behind the birth of the Starbucks brand, according to Howard Shultz, Starbucks CEO, who said he’d been "inspired by the craftsmanship of the Milanese barista, the spirit of the Italian people, their passion for community, their friendliness and taste for quality" during a trip to Milan and Verona in the Eighties.
Acknowledging the “unique challenge” of opening a coffee chain in Italy, home of the espresso, he claimed the inaugural Starbucks branch would be designed with “painstaking detail and great respect for the Italian people and coffee culture”.
It remains to be seen whether Starbuck's latest venture, originally due to launch this year, will make a dent in Italy’s long-standing cafe tradition, especially as prices at local options are expected to be significantly cheaper than those of Starbucks, following regulations that cap coffee prices at cafes to €1 (85p) for an espresso or €1.40 (£1.20) for a cappuccino.
This isn’t the first time a major global company has attempted to force its way into mainstream Italian culture, Lee Marshall, Telegraph Travel’s Italy expert and author of Telegraph Travel’s Italian coffee culture guide, notes.
“Italy’s been through something similar before when the first McDonalds opened near the Spanish Steps in Rome in 1986. Today Big Macs are part of an Italian kid’s food experience along with pizza and pasta and big family dinners - but they haven’t replaced them,” he told Telegraph Travel.
“The same will happen with Starbucks. Plenty of tourists will go there because when they’re abroad many people like reassuring, recognisable brands. But Italians will too - if only to use the Wi-Fi. However these Starbucks outlets won’t replace the Italian corner bar where you stand at the counter and knock back your espresso. Italians won’t even think of them as the same thing; they’ll exist in parallel universes,” he added.
“But they’d better get the coffee right. The first time they serve a local a bad espresso at a temperature that’s too hot to knock back in one, he or she will never go back,” he warned.
Luigi Ordello, the president of the Italy-based Institute of International Coffee Tasters, agreed, telling The Local: “It wouldn't threaten Italian coffee if it does arrive, as Starbucks today represents an international standard of coffee and not an Italian one.”
While Americans and tourists in the country might welcome the move, it has been met with disapproval by locals and Italian businesses, including one restaurant owner who described the idea of Starbucks coming to Italy as “disgusting” and claimed the company wouldn’t take off as Italians are "too protective" of their coffee.
“I will never choose an American coffee over an Italian one," Alice, a coffee-loving student in Italy, told The Local.
Ordering coffee in Italy: the 10 commandments
- Milk in the morning: Thou shalt only drink cappuccino, caffé latte, latte macchiato or any milky form of coffee in the morning, and never after a meal.
- Keep in simple: Thou shalt not muck around with coffee. Requesting a mint frappuccino in Italy is like asking for a single malt whisky and lemonade with a swizzle stick in a Glasgow pub.
- Never say 'espresso': Which reminds me, thou shalt not use the word espresso. This a technical term in Italian, not an everyday one. As espresso is the default setting and single the default dose, a single espresso is simply known as un caffè.
- Double trouble: Thou can order un caffè doppio (a double espresso) if thou likest, but be aware that this is not an Italian habit. Italians do drink a lot of coffee, but they do so in small, steady doses.
- Say it loud: Thou shalt head confidently for the bar, call out thine order even if the barista has his back to you, and pay afterwards at the till.
- Just the ticket: If it's an airport or station bar or a tourist place where the barista screams "ticket" at thee, thou shalt, if thou can bear the ignominy, pay before thou consumest.
- Standing room only: Thou shalt not sit down unless thou hast a very good reason. Coffee is a pleasurable drug, but a drug nevertheless, and should be downed in one, standing. Would thou sit down at a pavement table to take thy daily Viagra?
- Some like it hot: Thou shouldst expect thy coffee to arrive at a temperature at which it can be downed immediately as per the previous commandment. If thou preferest burning thy lips and tongue or blowing the froth off thy cappuccino in a vain attempt to cool it down thou shouldst ask for un caffè bollente.
- The permitted drinks: Thou shall be allowed the following variations, and these only, from the Holy Trinity of caffè, cappuccino and caffé latte: caffè macchiato or latte macchiato – an espresso with a dash of milk or a hot milk with a dash of coffee (remember, mornings only); caffè corretto: the Italian builder's early morning pick-me-up, an espresso "corrected" with a slug of brandy or grappa; and caffè freddo or cappuccino freddo (iced espresso or cappuccino) – but beware, this usually comes pre-sugared. Thou mayst also ask for un caffè lungo or un caffè ristretto if thou desirest more or less water in thine espresso.
- That is all: Anything else you may have heard is heresy.
Source: Lee Marshall, Telegraph Travel's Italy expert. See his full Italian coffee culture guide here.