“We arrive with humility and respect in the country of coffee,” Howard Schultz, the former longtime CEO of Starbucks, told Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily, last week. He was about to inaugurate, in Milan, the first Italian outpost of the global chain that supersized coffee and now vies with McDonald’s and Coca Cola as a symbol of American gastronomic imperialism. Even, of course, if Italy has one of the world’s most developed coffee cultures, which in fact is what inspired Schultz to convince the founders of the small Starbucks coffee company to open its first coffeehouse in 1984.*
Italy is a country where the pumpkin is generally found in the ravioli, not the latte, and so the Milan Starbucks isn’t just any Starbucks branch. It’s a huge “Roastery” in the former Milan outpost of the Poste, the Italian postal service, and is meant as a full “experience,” Starbucks said in a press release that has already been mocked by Eater. (“Eight Ridiculous Things Starbucks Is Saying About Its New Store in Milan.”) The Roastery, the first in Europe after others in Seattle and Shanghai, will offer coffee and food and also illustrate Starbucks’s roasting process.
Okay. But a question leaps to mind: Does Italy need Starbucks? “Che tristezza,” one Italian friend told me when I asked her about it opening in Milan. “How sad.” I called the Tazza d’Oro, one of Rome’s most historic coffee shops—they’re called bars in Italian—and Laura Birrozzi, a manager, offered some thoughts. “We and Starbucks sell something completely different. We have quality Italian espresso,” she said. I asked her if she’d ever been to a Starbucks, and she said she had on one occasion, on a visit to London. “It wasn’t the coffee I’m used to,” was all she’d say.