Not the Usual Starbucks

There’s been a big hoopla here in Italy about whether or not the Italians are ready for or will welcome Starbucks. Today I visited the new and first Starbucks location in Italy.

This is an independent review, I have not received any freebies.

The new Starbucks Roastery Milan is located in the historical Poste Italiane building in Piazza Cordusio. Once the postal hub for Milan and the surrounding suburbs, the neoclassical marble monument was gutted and transformed into the first location in Italy of the Seattle born coffee house.

I approached Piazza Cordusio from Piazza Duomo. A three-minute walk and I found the outdoor patio which was sectioned off with velvet cord and potted shrubs. At first impact, it seems like a luxury hotel.

Big burly men in black, at least six of them, all in military at-ease stance and earpieces are stationed in front of the doors and patio entrances. Each one is at least six feet tall with linebacker shoulders. You’d think there was a dignitary visiting. I’m not sure if it was for show or if they actually thought there was a security risk, but in a subtle, subliminal way having an ex-rugby player open the door for me made me feel like I was entering an exclusive venue.

Upon entering, I have to admit, I felt a bit overwhelmed. It was a lot to take in.

There is an enormous coffee bean roaster positioned in the center churning coffee beans (seeing it was my favorite part of the day), a conveyor belt crawling its way to another machine and crowds of people trying to understand how to order coffee.

There are helpers in olive green aprons that point you in the right direction towards one of the two ordering stations. On both sides of the coffee factory, there are long marble-topped bars with glass displays of cakes and pastries. Not the usual muffins and crumb cakes, but Princi Bakery buttery croissants, fruit tarts, mini panettone, tiramisù and fresh breads.

I did spot a small lemon loaf and a glass jar of oversized chocolate chip cookies but to my dismay, my beloved carrot cake did not make the cut (pun intended.)

On the main floor, tables display sleekly designed merchandise and helpers do demonstrations of coffee makers and accessories.

Everything from bronze glazed ceramic mugs to sunglasses designed exclusively for Starbucks Reserve. I couldn’t find the colorful “Been There” series of souvenir cups (the real reason I went today.)

I made my way to the line to order coffee. Velvet ropes trace an orderly path for customers. Two men ahead of me got fed up with waiting and left. I asked the man in front of me how long he had been waiting and he told me “Ten minutes.” In total, I waited seven minutes to get to the cashier. Behind the counter, you will not find the familiar blackboard with the list of frapacinos and ice lattes, so I can’t even say if they serve them or if the menu is just a traditional Italian coffee menu. Instead, there is a display of coffee from around the world and large Princi bread loafs. In some ways it is more like being at a Princi that serves Starbucks coffee.

I ordered in Italian and the young man replied to me in English. I asked again in English for a black coffee to go. After a five minute wait, they called my name. The cup was black with a brown star above an R for “Reserve”. The coffee was really good, better than other Starbucks coffees I have had. My receipt read: TL cafe Americano but it surprisingly cost 4 euro.

Some people will argue that you are paying for the experience. Some people say that it’s crazy to pay that much for a black coffee (an American style coffee costs less than €1.50 in most Milan bars). Although my opinion is worth very little about the matter, I will express my thoughts anyway:

As an American, I appreciate the traditional, laid back Starbucks. The Starbucks Roastery is intended to be something more than a coffee house, it’s an experience. At 4 euro a cup, I can’t go every day. I understand why they wanted to open the Roastery in Milan; it caters to the fashionable Milanese crowd. There’s absolutely no doubt that they invested in the design and architecture to make a beautiful venue.

I think Starbucks had to open a location in Italy, the country of coffee culture. From a marketing point of view, I understand why they opened an ornate venue in partnership with an Italian brand, but I think opening smaller stores that preserved the Starbucks philosophy and easy-going atmosphere would have worked just as well.

Now that they’ve got their foot in the door, I look forward to seeing a few smaller stores around town or at the airports.

Celia Abernethy

Celia is the founder and managing editor at Originally from New York, she now spends her time between Milan and Lake Como sharing her discoveries and experiences living in Italy. Follow @CeliaAbernethy on Twitter

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