People are freaking out this week about Starbucks opening their first shop in Italy in Milan over the weekend. Italy lovers near and far are all very CONCERNED that the end times are near for Italy’s coffee culture, and oh god is nothing sacred?!
I’m sorry, but I think the outrage is just silly. Now I of course say this as someone who is decidedly NOT a coffee lover. I may have a cappuccino now and then, but that’s really about it for me. Give me my English Breakfast tea, milk, no sugar, please.
But I did spend four years living in Starbucks unholy central kingdom of Seattle, and I’ve been in Italy for nearly a year so far, so here are a couple points to consider before tearing your hair and cursing our corporate overlords.
Italy Doesn’t Exist For You
Most of the people complaining about Starbucks in Italy don’t live in Italy. Some have probable never even been to Italy. Others maybe had an amazing visit to Italy where they drank the most perfect tiny cups of espresso at some atmospheric corner bar, but they don’t have to deal with the reality of living in Italy every single day. They are so worried about keeping Italy’s culture pure and perfect, like this country is a museum that you can visit, instagram, and then head back home.
Well I live in Italy, and you know what I’d really like? A iced chai latte. You know what Mike would like once in awhile? A big drip coffee in a to go cup. These are not things you can get at the corner bar. And yes we are Americans with big American tastes, but I can tell you we aren’t the only ones who want those things.
I know this because another coffee shop recently opened up downtown called 12 oz Coffee Joint. Do you know what they serve? Iced coffees in to-go cups, bagels, and donuts. They seem to be doing really, really well.
Point being: you can’t bar Italy from having Starbucks just because it ruins your idea of what Italy should be like. If the Italians want Starbucks, let em have Starbucks. If they don’t, Starbucks will learn that soon enough.
Starbucks Isn’t About Coffee
People don’t go to Starbucks because they love coffee. They go there for chai lattes and mint mochas and frappucino milkshakes that are more than your allotted calorie intake for the day. Or, like me they go there because there is fast wifi and you can sit as long as you like.
In Italy, coffee bars are a place to meet your friends, share a quick coffee, or a croissant, maybe have an aperitivo a little later in the day. They are an entirely different animal than what Starbucks is offering.
Italians are Not Idiots
Italians did not get this far without some guiding food principles. This is a country that takes food and drink extremely seriously. They are rigid almost beyond reason. They aren’t about to give up their long cultural history of good coffee and neighborhood bars to all go hang at Starbucks instead.
Major American chains already exist all over Italy. Bologna, the foodie capital of Italy, has several McDonalds, Burger Kings and even Dominoes Pizza. Now I have no idea who is ordering Dominoes when they could have legitimate Italian pizza for the same price, but I would never proclaim that Italians shouldn’t be allowed to try it. I can tell you that there is no danger of Dominoes driving Mozzabella out of business. Because Italians know what good pizza is supposed to taste like and they don’t like to compromise.
Starbucks is not coming for your shot glass of espresso or your carefully crafted capuccinos. With their sugar bomb drinks and outrageous prices, Starbucks is a novelty here, nothing more.
Will Starbucks do well in Italy? I don’t really know. There are plenty of Italians who hate the idea, and others who are tentatively curious. I suspect the end result will be some high profile locations near major tourist landmarks in Rome, Florence, etc. I don’t think we’ll be seeing one on every block like you might in the states. I suspect the market will be mostly tourists, not locals, once everyone satiates their curiosity.
I do know that whether Starbucks sinks of swims will be decided by the market, as it should be, not by internet outrage. Now everyone calm down and get back to work.