If the shabbier McDonald’s, döner kebabs and fake Chinese restaurants worked here, Starbucks will also do so
Italians love coffee. But just to be clear, they are especially bound up in the traditional espresso ritual and are generally suspicious of foreign long coffee-flavoured drinks like latte or mokaccino, even when they travel abroad and need to adapt. Lah-di-da, Starbucks launched the challenge and opened a store in Milan, the first one in Italy.
The American giant claims that the brand-new shop does not stand in contrast with the local coffee culture, but it is rather consistent with other needs: “we wanted to bring a premium experience that’s different to what people in Italy are used to, including different brewing techniques, and a space to stay longer, relax and enjoy.”, Starbucks chief design officer Liz Muller said.
Short, bitter and intense
It is actually likely that the two do not conflict, despite everything. Indeed, in Italy, coffee was introduced in the 16th century and, since then, it soon became part of our daily life, enough to see 218 cafes if you happened to be in Venice in 1763. Nowadays, coffee is served all hours of the day. The holy trinity is when you wake up, morning break and after lunch. On a personal level, I would never give up that after dinner to end things, but this is a whole other story.
The point is that Italians have a totally different concept of coffee. We sometimes joke by saying that we cannot conceive of americano, as coffee has to be like life: short, bitter and intense, and never long, predictable and tasteless. All kidding aside, it is true that we think of coffee as a vital moment of pleasure, even when we are too busy to get off the hamster wheel.
Is it going to work?
That’s why Starbucks should paradoxically do well in Milan. First, it brings a different experience to which we are not used, unless we don’t live abroad. Moreover, the store made of wood and marble, the second largest in the world after Shanghai, is as sparkly as other beautiful Italian cafes, and the company itself named it the “most beautiful Starbucks in the world”.
Here in Piazza Cordusio, at a stone’s throw from the beautiful Cathedral, young people will meet for a sweet aperitivo or will bring their laptop and study all day long with just one drink and free Wi-Fi, to break the routine of university library. Considering that Milan is also a sui generis city for Italy, more cosmopolitan and always looking at international trends, the pieces fit together. Even if this format will be further imported, it will thus hardly affect the local traditional coffee shops.
How do I feel about Starbucks in Italy?
Aside from any positive or negative ethical consideration or from anachronistic pseudo autarchic imaginings, it’s not that I love Starbucks or, in general, American chains, as the quality is usually lower and products are standardized. However, i remember the pleasure of sitting in a cosy, warm English coffee chain shop in wintertime. It’s a different thing, almost exotic for us, I would say.
So, although it’s true that we hate that long, insipid sludge and we cannot understand how the hell you are supposed to live without a decent espresso, if the shabbier McDonald’s, döner kebabs and fake Chinese restaurants worked here, Starbucks will also do so. And, after having waited so long from the first time I tried it in Greece twelve years ago, I can’t wait to see my mispelled name on a cup once again.