Is It Starbucks?

We are not coming here to teach Italians how to make coffee, we’re coming here with humility and respect, to show what we’ve learned…
~ Howard Schultz

“I would like a caffe macchiato,” a customer recently told my friend, Cesare (owner of Bar Santo Stefano in Bologna).

Cesare began to make the drink which, if you don’t know, is a shot of espresso marked (macchiato) with a little milk.

“No,” the customer said, “I want a bigger one; I want to take it away.”  Cesare took out a styrofoam cup (about 10 ounces), and the customer waved his arms.  “No, I want a big one.” He indicated one about the size of a Starbucks venti.

Cesare after designing my cappuccino

“This is not Starbucks,” Cesare told him. “This is Italy.”

Amused as I am about this story, I’m also a bit irritated that tourists travel to Italy (or anywhere else) and expect to find things as they are at home, particularly where coffee and food are involved. When people travel with me, I make sure they know that they are not going to find brewed coffee here. Italians actually call American coffee acqua sporca (dirty water), and they make it with a shot of espresso and as much hot water as the drinker wants to add.

Starbucks Milano 1
The entrance to Starbucks Milano with bronze umbrellas and a pot-filled “garden”

I bring this up because, unless you have not been watching or reading the news lately (which is entirely possible given the news), you know that Starbucks opened its first venue in Italy last month.  Located in a former post office, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery is huge, elegant, beautiful, and pure Starbucks. In other words, it is not a renovation of the traditional Italian coffee bar.  It is Starbucks on steroids with a touch of Italy included.

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milano is the third of the company’s roasteries (Seattle and Shanghai being the other two) which basically makes it an upscale version of the regular Starbucks (with prices to match). Milano is full of wood, marble, copper, bronze, and colorful accouterments. It has printed menus, a coffee roaster (Italian-made, by the way), a cocktail bar (over 100 varieties), an affogato station (ice cream made instantaneously with liquid nitrogen), an on-site bakery, a wood-fired oven, a pour-over bar, Starbucks merchandise, a lot of seating, and free wi-fi (of course).

Starbucks Milano
The menu with prices in euro

The menu is definitely not the American menu.  Yes, espresso, cappuccino, and lattes are there, but cold-brew lemon sours, emerald mules, and citrus lavender sage spritzers replace the frappuccinos, caramel macchiatos, and iced coffees. I did not see anyone with a paper cup, nor did I see pitchers of cream on the condiment bars.  The prices, as I mentioned, are also higher—about three-to-four times what one pays in a regular store.  Note: The prices on the menu above are in euro, so to get the US cost, multiply the amount by $1.14 (today’s exchange rate), and you’ll get the approximate cost.


Cotton sweaters at Starbucks Milano


The merchandise is also more upscale (aka pricier) than that in the regular stores. In addition to cups (four sizes ranging in price from 14 euro for a three-ounce cup to 24 euro for a 14-ounce cup), they have t-shirts (35 euro), purses, bags, sweaters, sweatshirts, presses, mugs, pencils (8 euro, if I remember correctly), and more.  Packaged coffee runs about 39 euro for 100 grams (a little less than a quarter of a pound).

Directly across the street from Starbucks Milano is Bar Orefici, the traditional Italian coffee bar. Compact and inviting, it had customers (mostly men in suits) standing at the bar, downing their espressos, and heading to the office.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milano is on Piazza Cordusio, a few minutes walk from the Duomo, the opera house, and the Galleria.


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