How Italy Paved the Way to the Birth of Starbucks Coffee

original starbucks
The original Starbucks located at 1912 Pike Street in Seattle

“La vita inizià dopo il caffè (Life begins after coffee). Any Italian believes this.”

The original Starbucks Company gave birth to its first store at the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle in 1971 selling only whole roasted coffee beans.  When Howard Schultz joined the Starbucks Company in early 1983, the company only sold roasted coffee beans but not cups of coffee to drink.  That same year, Howard Schultz took a trip to Italy – a trip that changed Starbucks and the coffee culture in America forever.

Streets in Milan full of coffee bars and people who love coffee

As Mr. Schultz walked along the streets of Milan, he not only saw the connection between the Italian people and Italian coffee bars, but he also noticed the romance between the Italian coffee drinkers and their coffee.  Whenever there was coffee, a community was created and human connection got established.  He observed that people were coming in and out of the coffee bars at all hours of the day, be it for their morning, midday, afternoon, or even early evening espresso.  He became extremely fascinated by the animated conversations of the coffee drinkers as they sipped their coffee on the streets.  Mr. Schultz fell in love with all of these.

Coffee lovers taking a sip or two of their coffee in Milan

He then raced back from Italy to Seattle with the idea of recreating Italian coffee bar in his own image and style.  He was so enamored with this idea he wanted to bring it to America. He was truly convinced that this idea would work and upon his return to Seattle, he bought Starbucks Company from its original owners. In 1987, he opened the first Starbucks Coffee that sold coffee as a beverage on Pike Street in Seattle.

Blonde, Medium, & Dark coffee roasts

Mr. Schultz soon realized that the Americans would not favor the short and bitter espresso of the Italians so he invented new styles and coffee flavors for his coffee house.  Thus, the frapuccino and other Starbucks coffee beverages were born.  Today, Starbucks continues to create unique flavors of coffee and still continues to sell its popular blends of roasted coffee beans.

Frapuccino (Plural: Frapuccini)

The building on Pike Street where Starbucks is located has undergone a lot of renovations but this coffee house remains untouched and still looks the way it did when Mr. Schultz opened it 30 years ago. In fact, it has become one of the major attractions in Seattle and a “must-visit” for tourists both young and old.

First Starbucks on Pike Street / Photo by

There are no Starbucks Coffee shops in Italy at the moment but it will open its first store in Milan in 2018, soon to be largest in Europe. Partnering with Italian business company “Percassi,” Starbucks will not only sell beverages but will also function as a Roaster that will roast coffee beans in-house.  Coffee aficionados will be able to witness the full process of coffee-making: from green beans to the roasting, to the coffee grinding, to the coffee preparation and finally, to seeing it in their cups. This coffee bar/roaster will also offer coffee drinks not found at regular Starbucks like the “Shakerato”, a drink prepared with a shot of espresso over ice cubes, shaken, and a dash of “demerara” (a partially refined light brown cane sugar) added.

The “Shakerato”

Many believe that the opening of the first Starbucks in Italy, particularly in Milan will shake the long-established Italian caffès but instead the Italians say, “Bring it on!” Lots of controversy and mixed opinions have surfaced about the impending arrival of Starbucks coffee in Italy but Gabriele Cortopassi, one of the instructors at the Espresso Academy says, “There is space for everybody. [It’s] time for the Italian coffee world to segment its market!” Gio Montesano, a medical equipment warehouse employee and also an avid drinker of espresso says that Starbucks will probably be liked by tourists in Italy and will only be enjoyed by young Italian people. “Real Italians know what real coffee is, if you know what I mean,” he adds.

Starbucks to open its first location in this historic post office building in downtown Milan

Mr. Schultz says that opening a Starbucks coffee house in Italy is very significant for the company because the Italians have already mastered coffee. He adds, “Starbucks is not coming to Italy to teach the Italians how to make coffee but to present Starbucks’s interpretation of what coffee could be. I realize that the company’s success all over the world will not entitle success in Italy.  Starbucks will have to earn it.”

Howard Schultz  Photo by  Bloomberg.png
Howard Schultz on opening the first Starbucks in Italy / Photo by: Bloomberg

Italy may not grow coffee beans but in the eyes of the world, the Italians have made coffee their own. Remember caffè latte, caffè macchiato, cappuccino, and the king of them all- – the espresso? All Italian!

Let us keep in mind where Mr. Schultz got the inspiration in creating his line of Starbucks coffee beverages that America and many countries love – – Milan, Italy.

So to all die hard Starbucks fans, I think it’s fair to say “Thank you, Italy, for Starbucks coffee.”

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