8 Settembre 2018

First Starbucks divides Milan, the city that inspired its creator

More than 200 people queued in Milan yesterday as Starbucks opened its first store in Italy. For a moment it appeared that the city that inspired the chain was embracing the return of a lost son. Heavy rain the night before forced La Scala’ s orchestra to cancel a street performance to celebrate the debut. The skies cleared, however, for the screening of a film showing the moment of inspiration for Howard Schulz, the coffee chain’ s founder, when he visited Milan’ s coffee bars in 1983. Before the opening, Mr Schulz claimed that he was bringing his coffee to Italy, the home of 60 million connoisseurs, with “humility”. Trying to sell salted caramel mocha frappuccinos will, however, be a gamble in a country where six billion espressos a year are drunk at cafe counters. Legend has it that Marco d’ Aviano, an Italian Capuchin monk, invented the cappuccino after a sack of coffee was seized from the Ottomans during the battle of Vienna in 1683. Strict rules still surround its consumption. The idea of drinking one after lunch is frowned upon because it can unsettle the digestion. What refined Milanese will make of guzzling a pumpkin spice latte is another matter. It is no surprise that it has taken years for the chain to find the nerve to tackle Italy after opening almost 29,000 branches in 77 countries, including 3,300 in China. Only a few countries have been spared Starbucks, including Iceland, Israel, Pakistan, Cuba, Ecuador and Malaysia. Hence the special effort over the opening in a high-ceilinged former post office near Milan’ s Duomo, the impressive cathedral in the centre of the city. The outlet comes complete with a heated marble-topped bar, beans shooting along glass pipes into a massive roaster, six speciality coffees and seven types of brewing. Some of the locals joined in the celebration. “We queued for an hour and it’ s wonderful,” said Sonia Silvestrini, 44, an elegant Milanese mother with her 14-year-old daughter. “My children are crazy about Starbucks,” she said. “They collect cups whenever we travel, then post photos of them”. The company calls its Milan branch a “roastery”, setting it apart from other branches and serving odd varieties such as a “whisky barrel aged” coffee. There are no frappuccinos, yet, but they are coming – four normal branches are to open more quietly in Milan within a year. Resistance is brewing, however. Codacons, the Italian consumer group, has filed a complaint with the national competition watchdog alleging that Starbucks’ 1.80 espressos and 4.50 cappuccinos are a rip-off when the same drinks can be had at a corner bar for 1 and 1.50 respectively. Inside the roastery, Elena, 62, was grumbling about the 3.50 she paid for her marocchino – an espresso topped with milk froth and dusted with cocoa powder. “This place is beautiful but I usually pay 1.50 for this,” she said. Across the street, Pietro Peroni, a souvenir seller, watched the queue and shook his head. “You won’ t catch me paying 1.80 for an espresso,” he said. “I will stick to the Café Martini round the corner.” Alessandro Panzarino, the Café Martini manager, summed up what was missing from Starbucks. “In the few minutes a customer in an Italian cafe knocks back a coffee, he or she will trade quickfire jokes about politics or football with the barista.” he explained. “We know all about their lives. I went to London and visited a Starbucks and no one talked to me. The queues are long now, but let’ s see in a month.”

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