I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was in my 40s, and I blame it all on Starbucks. I fell in love with sitting in a cafe, drinking coffee, working, reading a book, or catching up with friends. I was soon drinking Starbucks at home, visited a cafe a few times a week, and earned my gold rewards card. I was a self-proclaimed Starbucks addict. My first visit to Italy after I started drinking the dark juice, however, introduced me to the Italian coffee experience. The smooth, aromatic Italian brews captivated me so much that I had a difficult time adjusting to American coffee on my return home. I still go to Starbucks, but I bought a Nespresso machine to help me when I need my Italian coffee fix.
The news that Starbucks was opening its first store in Italy this year both interested (How would it compare to Italian coffee bars and coffee?) and appalled me (How could they invade the Italian coffee world?). As a tribute to the Italian coffee culture that so intrigued and influenced Howard Schultz, chairman emeritus, during his first visit to Milan 35 years ago, the company opened its third Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan in September. I decided I had to check it out on my next visit.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milano
Located in the historic Palazzo delle Poste in Piazza Cordusio, Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milano is 25,000 square feet of opulence and elegance. Everywhere you look you see wood, bronze, marble, and color, all an homage to the materials used in architecture and design in its new home, Milan. It tries to be Italian: The Italian manufacturer Scolari produced the coffee roaster. The marble counters—heated in winter so that they do not get too cold, by the way—came from a block of Tuscan marble. Italian sculptor Giovanni Balderi carved the iconic mermaid sculpture from a piece of Carrara marble. Local artisans crafted the floor in the typical Palladiana Terrazzo that is common in northern Italy.
Even the offerings skew toward the Italian coffees. There are no pumpkin spice lattes, Frappuccinos, or caramel macchiatos on the printed menu. Customers can enjoy one of the 115 drink options that range from Italian espresso, cappuccino, and marocchino to the Roastery’s exclusive cold-brew lemon sours, emerald mules, and citrus lavender sage spritzers. Bar Arriviamo offers more than 100 cocktails, and an on-site bakery run by local favorite, Princi, provides pastries, cakes, pizzas, and bread. There is even an affogato station (appropriately named Fire and Ice) where a barista produces made-to-order ice cream using liquid nitrogen.
Is It Italian Enough?
Coffee is the essence of Italian culture, and coffee bars are part of Italian life. According to the International Coffee Organization, 88 percent of Italians drink coffee daily, and of that, 78 percent drink coffee away from home at least once per day, usually at one of the 150,000 coffee bars throughout the country. Keep in mind that the Italian coffee bars are not anything like Roastery Milano. For the most part, they are small, intimate spaces dominated by a bar behind which baristas pull espresso into a small porcelain cup and hand it to a customer who, still standing, inhales the hot brew, pays, and quickly heads out the door. There might be four or five tables where customers can enjoy a pastry, panini, or aperitif (later in the day), but the norm is caffe al volo (coffee on the run).
Those are all reasons why the Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milano, as much as it tries, does not offer the true Italian coffee experience. Yes, it has several bars, but they are places where customers place and receive orders to take to the tables and chairs nearby. Yes, it offers the quintessential Italian coffee drinks—espresso, cappuccino, marocchino, but the prices are two-to-four times the cost of the local bars. Yes, its baristas are smiling and friendly, but the chances of one of its 300 employees remembering your name or drink are minimal. Mostly, though, far from serving caffe al volo, Roastery Milan invites customers to stay longer and enjoy the experience in a place that, while comfortable, is far from small and intimate.
That’s not to say that Roastery Milano does not offer quality coffee and pastries; it does, but most are Americanized versions of their Italian counterparts. Starbucks Reserve Roastery is worth a visit if you’re in Milan, but if you want to experience the true Italian coffee culture, stop by one of the little coffee bars. Your coffee-loving tastebuds will thank you.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milano is located at Piazza Cordusio 3, Milan, a five-minute walk from the Duomo, the opera house, and the Galleria.
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