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.
The 12 Best coffee shops
The 12 Best coffee shops
Small Batch Coffee, Brighton
My Hotel, Jubilee St, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 1GE
“They have six sites in Brighton, which offer great service in cool locations,” says Chris.
1 Granary Square (off Goods Way), London N1C 4AA
Jeffrey says this new, inspirational, design-led venue, created on a monumental scale, is one of London’s most powerful destination coffee venues. “Live roasting and artisan coffee made in a diverse set of ways by some of the UK’s best baristas complement the superb and comprehensive all-day brunch menu.” Its evening menu is a treat too.
Colonna & Smalls, Bath
6 Chapel Row, Bath, Avon, BA1 1HN
This speciality coffee house always offers three different types of espresso and three different types of filter coffee and will explain which is best depending on what sort of drink you wish to have: flat white, cappuccino etc. Chris says the coffee is “simply stunning”.
Bold St Coffee, Liverpool
89 Bold St, Liverpool, L1 4HF
Dale says this is one of the loveliest cafeé he knows. “Really approachable staff, the highest quality of coffee with the least pretence imaginable and they are repeatedly awarded the best café in the city. A solid community of like-minded coffee people within Liverpool.”
66 Great Titchfield Street, Fitzrovia, London, W1W 7QJ
Local, quality-focused artisan café with excellent in-house-made delicious food, has a very loyal following, says Jeffrey. “The owner Peter Dore-Smith is a perfectionist and his enthusiastic team are always very welcoming.” It’s independently owned and only minutes from the mayhem of Oxford Circus.
The Plough, Birmingham
21 High St, Harborne, Birmingham, B17 9NT
“The Plough redefines what a pub can be,” says Dale. “It aims for excellence with everything it does – coffee, food, service – and hits every time. This place is worth catching a train from London for.”
6/8 Kafé, Birmingham
6/8 Temple Row, Birmingham, B2 5HG
Central location in the second city, this is a stylish and smart cafe with a loyal following, says Dale, who also flags up the friendly service.
1 Parliament Street, Harrogate, HG1 2Q
Established in 1919, an institution and one of the finest coffee and tea venues in the country, says Jeffrey. “A beautiful and traditional venue that is owned and run by fine purveyors of coffee, Taylors of Harrogate.”
The Window, Norwich
25 Wensum St, Norwich, East Anglia, NR3 1
The owner, Hayley, serves her own blends, which change with her mood and you can buy the beans to take away.
Brew Lab Coffee, Edinburgh
6-8 South College St, Edinburgh, EH8 9AA
Dale says this is one of the most exciting cafés he’s visited in a long time. “The coffee is incredible – some of the most skilled baristas in Edinburgh, and the coffee changes weekly. The food is great too.”
Waterloo Gardens, Cardiff
5 Waterloo Gardens, Cardiff, Wales, CF23 5AA
A short walk from central Cardiff but well worth the effort, says Dale. “It was awarded the best UK coffee house 2009 and, strictly speaking, is really a tea paradise, but the coffee is just as well prepared. Super service, knowledgable and interesting staff.”
North Tea Power, Manchester
36 Tib St, Manchester, M4 1LA
“This is a beautiful café in the northern quarter of the city,” says Dale. “The staff are warm, the espresso is exceptional and you’ll never want to leave.”
"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.