Italian coffee traditions

Italian Coffee Traditions Are Being Ruined By Starbucks

This is how Starbucks is allowed to ruin the amazing Italian coffee traditions and culture, even here in Italy.

Italian coffee traditions - step up to the bar

My disdain for Starbucks is not new. They have been ruining Italian coffee traditions and confusing their products with real Italian coffee for a long time and have been successful doing it.

I recently wrote about their effort to further confuse their products with actual Italian coffee culture, and I also wrote about some Italian-American businesses pushing back on Starbucks and their desires to encroach on the beautiful Italian Culture in the North End in Boston.

While I’ve never liked their dilution of actual culture, is hasn’t always been obvious what tangible effects this could have, beyond confusing customers and running small coffee shops out of business. Well, that was true until very recently.

Italian coffee traditions - breakfast

What Are The Coffee Rules In Rome?

The most common coffee rule in Rome (or actually across Italy) is that any espresso drink that includes a lot of milk, like a cappuccino or a caffè latte, is considered a breakfast drink and is only consumed until 11:00 AM. The time is a little misleading because what it really means is before the cocktail hour before lunch that begins at 11:00. Yes, I said: “cocktail hour before lunch”.

You can, and should, enjoy an Italian espresso during the entire day, but only without milk. In addition to a plain espresso, you can get a macchiato or shakerato, which have little to no milk at all.

When Do Italians Drink Coffee?

When you come to Italy you will notice quite a few differences from how coffee is consumed in the US. For example, it isn’t common to drink one large quantity of coffee in the morning. Instead, the beautifully tiny expresso cups are enjoyed in smaller quantities throughout the day and even after dinner. The smaller dose can help you maintain the energy you need to get through the day, instead of a burst only in the morning.

Italian coffee traditions - breakfast cappuccino

Starbucks Influence On Italian Coffee Traditions

On a trip to NYC, we ate a fabulous meal at one of our favorite restaurants, Ribalta. Their pizza is true Neapolitan style, the wine selection is fantastic, their service is great, and if you go at the right time you can enjoy a Calcio (soccer) game with a very spirited and lively crowd. We try to go whenever we are in town and this recent trip was no exception. At the end of our delicious meal, we ordered some dolci and a couple caffè macchiato drinks. The waiter took our order for dessert, stopped and confirmed with us that the coffee we wanted was a shot of espresso. Confused, we responded “yes”, but I though to myself: “as opposed to what?”

Again last week, when my wife went to a coffeeshop and ordered a macchiato, the barista confirmed with her that she was expecting an espresso drink. My wife said yes, but noticing the confused look on her face, the barista explained that many people order a macchiato and aren’t expecting a real one, they are looking for one of those nasty sugar and whipped cream disasters that they serve at Starbucks. When they are served a real macchiato, they’re disappointed.

Why Is Starbucks Not Popular In Italy?

I don’t think you can say that Starbucks isn’t popular in Italy. There are a growing number of coffee shops in the major cities and when I stopped by (for investigative reasons only) it was crowded. There were, however, some obvious differences in the types of customers as compare to in the US. For example:

  • Very heavily younger and female dominant.
  • A mix of tourists and locals.
  • Italians who want to enjoy “American” culture.

There has been some resistance mixed in with this acceptance. Some Italians see Starbucks as overpriced, burnt garbage and another example of America’s cultural imperialism. Some Starbucks have been protested and others have been burned. Some people have just been confused by what Starbucks calls a “Frappuccino” and why they would try to mix olive oil with coffee.

Italian coffee traditions - a volume business

Supporting The Traditions Of Italian Coffee Culture

This is a clear example intentionally fostering confusion with customers as to what very specific Italian products are in order to attract a larger, if ignorant, client base. Starbucks seems fine with this, but I’m not and if you love Italian coffee and its culture, you shouldn’t be OK with it either. Please learn what a true macchiato is and buy those, or of course you could make them at home with some delicious Italian coffees and stove-top espresso makers. We’re passionate about Italian Coffee Culture and feel the need to support cultural appropriation by Starbucks!

Italian coffee traditions - amazing coffee bars

More Italian Coffee Traditions And Experiences

If you are interested in learning more about the Italian coffee and the culture that embraces it, you should check out some of our other posts:

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