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Starbucks Is Coming to Italy and Italians Are Predictably Skeptical

The chain has announced plans to open its first location in one of the world's proudest coffee-drinking nations.

Phoebe Hurst

Phoebe Hurst

Photo via Flickr user Hermielou Maria

Italian coffee is a proud tradition that stretches back centuries and across regions; one built on craftsmanship and ceremony. Foamy cappuccinos are poured fresh from the Moka pot—but never after breakfast. Scolding hot caffè is knocked back while perched on a stool at the local coffee bar, and languorous evening meals beside the Tuscan olive groves must be rounded off with tiny cups of bittersweet espresso.

But Italy could be about to add a new ritual to its long-held love affair with coffee: ordering a Venti Iced Caramel Cocoa Cluster Frappucino with extra toffee drizzle to-go from a green-aproned barista and slurping it through a plastic straw.

That's right, Starbucks is coming to Italy. The international coffee chain announced last week that it will open two locations in Milan and Italy next summer, followed by four more in the same week across both cities. These will be the first Starbucks cafes to grace the country's shores.

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The plan to bring Starbucks to Italy is spearheaded by Antonio Percassi, a footballer-turned-entrepreneur who has already successfully introduced international chains like Victoria's Secret and Zara to the country. He is working with Starbucks bosses to make the brand more palatable for Italians and has high hopes for the business.

Speaking at a Milan press conference last week, Percassi said: "We are aiming to open 200 to 300 sales points across Italy, we think that there's a place for it in the market."

By 2023, Percassi hopes to have opened hundreds of Starbucks across Italy, "if the market responds well."

But then Italy is no ordinary market. Despite the company citing CEO Howard Schultz's experience of Italian coffee bars as the inspiration for opening the original Seattle Starbucks in 1971, getting Italians to choose syrup-filled lattes over their beloved 1 Euro espressos will be a challenge. Percassi acknowledged this in his statement, saying that Italy's first Starbucks location would be designed "with painstaking detail and great respect for the Italian people and coffee culture."

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Many Italians are still skeptical, though. Luigi Ordello of Italy's Institute of International Coffee Tasters told Italian news website The Local that Starbucks' arrival in the country "wouldn't threaten Italian coffee if it does arrive, as Starbucks today represents an international standard of coffee and not an Italian one." Student Alice, however, put it a little more bluntly. She told the site: "I will never choose an American coffee over an Italian one."

Let's hope Starbucks hasn't forgotten what happened last time it tried to open in a country full of coffee snobs.