Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Why Starbucks is not present in Italy?

When Starbucks was asked why they didn't have stores in Italy the answer was, "Italians aren't used to waiting more than 30 seconds for a cappuccino." This is true, but the better answer is more complicated than that. In Starbucks' nations an Italian coffee bar is a novelty. It's not truly part of American, or British or Swiss culture. It's a foreign concept, like a Thai restaurant. In Italy the coffee bar is daily life and always has been. The coffee bar is for everybody.

But it's true, Starbucks is not an Italian bar. The departure point was Italian but the end result is purely American. Even though they use Italian words to describe their coffees what is served is unmistakably American, from the taste of the coffee itself to the consistency of the foam of steamed milk. And the size is important. It must be small. When it's small you taste the coffee. It must be of a temperature that's ready to drink—Italians won't stand there and stir their cup cool with a narrow plastic stick for ten minutes. Even a caffe latte is small—little more than twice the amount of milk of a cappuccino. The Starbucks item called a "venti" does not exist and Italians can't help but chuckle when they see it.

When I asked my Italian friend what she thinks of Starbucks – she said it is called as ‘dirty water’ – because coffee is small, and in Starbucks they serve not coffee, but water and coffee or milk and coffee, but not the real coffee. Also, it is not only the size that matters it is also the taste. Italian coffee is strong. Yes, they add sugar in, but coffee should be strong and not milk. That’s espresso (but in Italy they don’t call it espresso, it’s a coffee, simple coffee). Cappuccino is a little bit bigger than espresso with a bit of milk. Latte is bigger than cappuccino (but it is not latte, latte in Italian means milk, its caffe latte). And it is only one size, not like small, medium and large. Also if you enter McDonalds (to tell you the truth, it is not McDonalds, it is a McCafĂ©) in Italy you can see that they serve different coffee there – only ‘small’ coffee (and actually they introduced to Italians a slower coffee – by giving space to sit to drink coffee). So for those who would like to drink ‘Starbucks coffee’ it will be a disappointment, even when looking for a iced/cold coffee :) Starbucks is smart not to enter this particular market, though it is very interesting how many Starbucks-style-coffee-shops sell themselves as if serving ‘real Italian coffee’ when in reality, they serve ‘dirty water’ but not coffee as would real Italians say. However, some Italians like Starbucks style coffee as well as Italian coffee.

Italian coffee making style

Unlike in the U.S., where coffee drinking evolved around the steaming mug of drip coffee, in Italy the culture was shaped by the espresso machine. First patented in 1901, the early models consisted of a vertical cylinder, in which water was kept near the boiling point and released through twin valves. Pressure from the steam would push the water through the grounds and into a coffee cup. Later versions added hand levers, pumps, and heat-transfer systems that warmed the water on demand, but the concept remained the same: a hot, fresh drink that could be prepared in less than half a minute and—because coffee quickly loses its flavor—consumed just as fast.

How they drink it

Forget soft couches and easy-listening music. Italians drink coffee the way New Yorkers once took cigarette breaks, as a brief interlude in a hectic workday. It takes less than 3 sips to drink coffee, so ordering it ‘to go’ is unreal.

Coffee is culture.


  1. Glad Starbucks isn't there to pollute Italy with bad coffee culture. I've been once to Starbucks when it opened its first shop in Bangkok. Uggh ! I thought somebody stole my sock to use it as filter. Strange taste and light as water, despite those strange and impressive Italian names and use of Italian espresso machines. Stay out of Italy please.

  2. I am italian and I am very disappointed that Starbucks is not present in Italy