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Starbucks Opens Shop in the Country Whose Coffee Culture It Ripped Off

It’s the coffee giant’s most daring entry into a new market yet

Starbucks Milan Roastery
Inside Starbucks new Roastery in Milan, Italy.

Starbucks is making a daring entry into a new market this week, with a huge roastery opening in Milan, Italy — the coffee giant’s first location in the country, known as the birthplace of espresso.

Located in a former post office in a central Milan piazza, the new shop, cafe, and roaster is just blocks away from major attractions like the city’s Duomo, and famed opera house Teatro alla Scala. This will be the third Starbucks roastery; the first was in Seattle (where it’s become a major attraction), and a second opened in Shanghai last year, a major market for the company.

Starbucks’ newest location appears to be promising higher grade coffee than the average outlet, and in partnership with Princi, an Italian bakery brand, it will offer a menu of sweet and savory items prepared onsite.

The company is clearly taking its Italian project very seriously. Given Schultz’s own personal obsession with Italian coffee culture, this could be seen as an attempt from former CEO Howard Schultz to solidify his caffeinated legacy. While Schultz left that role in June 2018 after occupying it for around 25 years (on and off), the move on Italy began long before his departure, and if it succeeds, could be credited to Schultz.

It’s hard to say what Starbucks’ chances for success in Italy are: for all the random Italian words inserted into its menu, it’s really not an Italian coffee shop in terms of style and offerings (the caramel macchiato is not an Italian invention), and in that sense, it’s not a direct competitor to Italian coffee houses.

Italian coffee is not typically very sweet or laden with whipped cream, and is far cheaper than Starbucks’ menu prices, often around one Euro for straightforward espresso drinks. (That said, Starbucks drinks are much more elaborate in terms of flavorings, and much larger.) On top of that, to-go coffee is somewhat rare in the country, which could mean there’s a gap in the market for it — or it could mean that Italians don’t want it, which is more or less what happened when the company tried to make it big in Australia, another country with a strong coffee culture.

When the Milan cafe was first announced, it drew howls of indignation, with many critics saying the multinational should stay out of Italy. One day before the official opening, the criticism is ongoing, if a little quieter.

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