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  • Starbucks Is Heading to Italy

    Find out if Italians are going to buy into it – or not
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Coffee – specifically espresso – is more than a pick-me-up for Italians. It's a way of life. It's right up there in significance with wine, pasta, mamma, and the Pope. Oh yeah, it's that important.

    In Napoli, which is considered the epicenter of the coffee culture (and the best place to get a strong, authentic Italian espresso), you will see throngs of people standing at il bar sipping espresso from ceramic or porcelain cups with silver spoons in them and saucers under them. This ain't nonna's house on Sunday, when she brings out her nice things. This is an everyday occurrence at the bar. Yes, the place where you get coffee is called the bar, and it usually serves alcohol, too. (Sometimes, the booze is mixed into your espresso and sometimes it's straight in a shot, it's up to you.)

    Now, Starbucks, which according to folklore is a result of its CEO Howard Schultz' fascination with Italy's coffee culture, wants to break into the business in the Boot. Many financial and business reporters have been talking about how this will influence the brand, what the company has to do to make its formula palatable to Italians, and whether this is going to work or not.

    Word is that Starbucks will be making standing areas for Italians to drink their coffee. Of course, many have pontificated about how they can't run into the country like the ugly Americans forcing their ways unto another people in the way others have before (hello McDonald's!). Apparently, Starbucks is also working on a new blend to cater to Italian taste.

    Still, I can't help but think that this is like Pizza Hut trying to set up shop in Naples, where pizza was born and pizzaioli (chefs who make pizza) are trained and see their job as a profession. Add to that the fact that getting an espresso with your friends and colleagues is a way to socialize, conduct business, and connect with your fellow man. For instance, I can't imagine any Italian walking out of a coffee bar with a paper container full of brew when they're on the run. There's no such thing as fast food, and there's no such thing as fast coffee either.

    I don't want to be a party pooper, but Starbucks has an uphill battle ahead of it. Italians are all about authenticity and creativity in food, especially the stuff it's known for, such as espresso. While some people in southern Italy will pick up a McDonald's burger in the big cities that have such outlets, most of them still head home for a big lunch by Mamma every day. And they all make their own espresso at home. They all have their opinions on how to make the right amount of foam on top, which coffee grinds to use, and what to put in it. Some people think even adding sugar to it is sacrilege. Those crazy coffee drinks full of sugar and whipped cream that Americans love and might buy once a day is not something I can see most of the Italians I know even liking, let alone buying regularly. Then again, Starbucks is a high-end American company with a pretty logo that might catch the attention of Italians, who are brand conscious. I just may have to wake up and smell the coffee.

    Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 3/16/2016


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