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Italian-Inspired Coffee? How Starbucks Got It Wrong

Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, admits that it was the Italians’ love for coffee that inspired him to create a cafe in America that resembled their community and delicious coffee. Did he succeed?

Italian’s love for coffee is apparent with controlling 4.6% of the world’s coffee consumption and having a $10 billion dollar market, but the Italian inspiration Schultz took is very different from what Starbucks has come to be. 

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of what actual coffee is, there are many cultural aspects of enjoying a cup of joe that differ between a typical American coffee shop, like Starbucks, and a cafe in Italy. Enjoying a cup of coffee in America is something you do when you are catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen in years or enjoying a stroll through the park. These are leisurely activities that are hours long, just like your coffee. Conversely, coffee to Italians is looked at as a quick way to get some more energy in before the end of the workday. It is not a drink that you sit outside in the park and enjoy for hours.

The typical size of a drink greatly differs. In traditional Italian neighborhoods, a 10 oz coffee is almost unheard of. It is more typical to find small shots of espressos at every table. However, in America, the typical size you will find individuals walking around with is 12 oz or 16 oz. What’s more, the variety of drinks offered and consumed are polar opposites. Almost every season, there is a new line of drinks being offered at Starbucks and you can customize the drink as much as you want. In Italy, you normally have three options: latte, espresso, or cappuccino. They are moving towards offering more options, but for the most part, they keep their coffee simple.  

The perception around baristas is drastically different as well. In America, it is common to find high school or college students working behind an espresso machine to make some extra money on the side. Rather, in Italy, you will find individuals who have been working in this profession for years, honing in on their craft. They’re paid like it too!

In the end, Starbucks is not embodying the Italian coffee culture that Schultz drew his inspiration from, but American coffee culture and Italian coffee culture have their own positive attributes that must be celebrated.

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