Starbucks to open first coffee shop in Italy

The expansion is being guided by Italian shopping mall entrepreneur Antonio Percassi

Starbucks, the US hot drinks behemoth, has already sold coffee to Brazil. But its latest mission, selling coffee to Italy, might prove more of a challenge. 

The Seattle-based chain is already established in Europe but has yet to try its luck in Italy, where attachment to the traditional espresso bar is strong and locals have scoffed at the huge beakers of coffee that Starbucks sells by the bucketload elsewhere.

Howard Schultz, the company’s founder, gave assurances that the first Italian outlet would be “the quintessence of Milan”, where it is due to open by 2017, and would be “in harmony with the rest of the city”. Outlets are due to follow in swift succession in Verona and Venice.

The expansion is being guided by Italian shopping mall entrepreneur Antonio Percassi, who oversaw the expansion of Zara and Victoria's Secret in Italy.

Starbucks is hoping it can draw Milanese coffee drinkers away from their tazzina, a strong black espresso, and their morning cappuccino with the promise of free wifi and space for young professionals to meet in person and talk in confidence.

Disrupting centuries of coffee-drinking tradition will be no easy feat for the Seattle-based chain better known for its giant sugary drinks. 

Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, seems to be aware of the delicate nature of their plans.

"We’re going to try, with great humility and respect, to share what we’ve been doing and what we’ve learned through our first retail presence in Italy. Our first store will be designed with painstaking detail and great respect for the Italian people and coffee culture," Schultz said.

When the Italy expansion was first rumoured Christian Barbujani, a Milan-native, told the Independent that coffee purists were unlikely to embrace Starbucks.

“It will certainly be very good for tourists, especially if they open one near the central station or Milan’s cathedral. The free Wifi strategy makes a lot of sense and I’m sure it would be very popular with teenagers. But it doesn’t fit in the Italian espresso culture, and coffee purist will not go there,” Barbujani said. 

But customers sipping espresso at the Sant’Eustachio cafe, one of Rome’s most celebrated coffee shops, weren’t overjoyed by the news.

Alessandro Varalda, 25, from Turin – the home of Lavazza coffee – said he would be sticking with his favourite Italian-style espresso or cappuccino.

He thought, however, that the distinctly un-Milanese Starbucks style of wooden floors, sofas, light jazz and faux “Friends”-style bonhomie, would appeal to some compatriots. “I think Italians who like all things American will go to Starbucks, but it’s more of a lifestyle thing,” he said.

A group of Americans at the Sant’Eustachio were even less impressed. Elodie Turpin, 21, from Virginia, who is studying Italian in Rome, said: “It’s an abomination. The coffee here is so nice. Starbucks serves you great big cups of stuff that tastes burnt.” 

Her friend Lindsay Ferrall, 20, agreed. “This is one thing from America that Italy doesn’t need,” she said.

Despite the country’s long cultural and historical links with coffee – the espresso machine was invented in Italy – it is only the seventh-largest consumer of the beverage in Europe, with many locals limiting themselves to a breakfast shot or an after dinner espresso.