Why You Absolutely Must Visit Starbucks Reserve Roastery In Milan
You’ve travelled halfway round the world to the birthplace of coffee culture and are now planning a visit to Starbucks?
I know it sounds like a crazy thing to do-but trust me.
Despite what coffee connoisseurs may think-it IS worth visiting Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan.
Why, you may ask??
To experience, in the words of Starbucks emeritus chairman, Howard Schultz,
“the story of Starbucks coming full circle.”
Starbucks !!! In Italy????!!!!!!!??? Blasphemy!
If there’s any culture in the world that takes its coffee seriously, it’s the Italians.
So opening Starbucks in a country that loves coffee and is deeply protective of their reputation as the Holy Grail of coffee culture was bound to be a daunting task.
Firstly, Italians don’t take kindly to American corporations trying to change their culture. Many aspects of American coffee culture, and by extension Starbucks, befuddle Italians.
Secondly, Starbucks was also aware that Italians abhor American-style coffee. It's regarded as a sort of dull black beverage and they scoff at Starbucks’ attempts to replicate espresso, the national brew birthed in Milan.
Even Howard Schultz was a skeptic.
“I never really thought we were ready, all these years, to open in Italy.”
Which is why it took Starbucks 47 years to not only open their first branch in the country that inspired the brand, but to daringly open in Milan.
Let me explain.
Coffee has a long history in Italy.
Venice was one of the first European ports to import coffee beans in the 16th century.
But it’s the baristas, inventors, engineers and investors in the city of Milan who shaped coffee culture as we know it today.
Italy emerged as the global leader in coffee thanks to Milanese manufacturer Luigi Bezzera. Several centuries after the arrival of coffee into Italy, he invented the world's first single-serve espresso machine.
Patented in 1901, this machine used pressurized steam to “express” or “press out” water through finely ground coffee to produce a short, concentrated shot of coffee.
Voila the espresso.
Caffè espresso literally means "pressed-out coffee."
Patron Saint of Baristas.
In 1903 Desiderio Pavoni, another Milanese native, bought Bezzera’s patents. He improved on the original design with his invention of the first pressure release valve.
This innovation meant that hot coffee wouldn’t splash all over the barista from the instant release of pressure, earning Pavoni the gratitude of generations of baristas.
Luigi Bezzera and Desiderio Pavoni were the Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs of espresso.
They worked together to perfect their machine, which Pavoni produced commercially (one a day) in a small workshop in Via Parini in Milan.
At the 1906 Milan Fair, the two men introduced the world to “cafeé espresso”
Bring on the Crema!!
Continuing the Milan contribution to coffee culture was the man responsible for shaping modern espresso, Achille Gaggia.
A Milanese barista turned inventor, he was dissatisfied with the pressurised steam extraction process from his existing machine, which he felt scalded the coffee and made it bitter.
So Gaggia determined to develop an alternative extraction process which would improve the flavour of the coffee.
In 1938 he filed a patent for the first piston system from which the first modern steam-less coffee machine was born.
By cleverly incorporating a spring into a lever-operated piston, his mechanism used hot water pressure instead of steam. Both the pressure and temperature of the water applied to the coffee were independent to that of the boiler.
This system produced a delicious espresso, characterized by a soft layer of "crema naturale".
It defined the art of making the perfect espresso and marked the beginning of the modern era of espresso.
Gaggia registered his second patent for a lever-piston brewing mechanism. This enabled the barista to obtain a creamy and flavorful espresso in just 25-30 seconds.
In a case of American invention inspiring Milanese innovation, rumour has suggested Gaggia’s inspiration was the piston engine of an American Army jeep that used a hydraulic system.
The journey of coffee in Milan continued.
In 1948, Ernesto Valente, the head of Milan-based coffee machine manufacturer, Faema, bought Gaggia’s patent.
But there was strong disagreement between Valente and Gaggia about the machines’ market.
Gaggia thought the espresso machine should be a luxury item, enjoyed only by higher end establishments.
But Valente believed otherwise.
He wanted to democratize the market and produce more affordable espresso machines so all coffee bars could afford them.
This philosophy led to the creation in 1961 of a cheaper, more resourceful version of the espresso machine, the FAEMA E61.
This machine is the forerunner of all modern espresso machines today.
Rather than relying on the manual force of the barista using a lever, the E61 was the first machine to use a motorized volumetric pump. It pushed the water onto the coffee cake at a pressure of 9 atmospheres- the ideal pressure needed to produce the espresso.
It was the first semi-automatic machine that required no elbow grease.
It allowed the barista to manage the extraction parameter, making it both versatile and labor saving.
This modification helped create the unique atmosphere of the Italian bar, where the barista chats with the customer while the espresso is made.
And this in turn led to an explosion of the neighborhood espresso bars and cafes in Italy which were the source of inspiration for Starbucks.
So therefore, in light of the history of espresso in Milan, Starbucks was right to honour the city as its entry point into Italy.
The Culmination of a Dream, Decades in the Making.
Every detail of the 2300 square metre Reserve Roastery is designed to honor the indelible magic of Milan.
It’s a momentous statement of the company's prodigal return to the birthplace of espresso that inspired the brand.
The Roastery is housed in the historic turn-of-the-century Palazzo Delle Poste (Palace of the Post Office), formerly the Milan Stock Exchange.
You can easily walk to it from some of Milan’s top tourist attractions - the Duomo, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the La Scala theatre and Castello Sforzesco.
It’s a nearby destination in which coffee is celebrated, both as a product and artform, against a backdrop of heritage and innovation.
On arrival you are offered unprecedented visibility into the art and science of coffee roasting. You experience 360-degree, theatre in the round, walkaround views.
On the left upon entering is the Milanese bakery icon-Princi.
Here you will be tempted to compliment your coffee and order from a selection of breads, pastries, pizza and desserts. These offerings are baked in the wood-fired oven, hand-built on site, brick by brick, using a crew of masons and artisans.
To the right is a curated collection of Starbucks merchandise-gifts to give or get. Get out your wallet either way.
This physical retail environment is complemented by an interactive augmented reality (AR) experience throughout the Roastery.
Using your mobile phone, you can discover more about the history of Starbucks.
Learn about the Reserve coffee roasting process and the artisans whose craftsmanship helped bring the dream of the Milan Roastery to life.
Steampunk on Steroids
Centre stage in the Roastery is a “steampunk on steroids”, locally manufactured coffee cask.
This is where all Starbucks Reserve coffee beans are held after they are roasted in the bright green Milanese-manufactured Scolari Roaster.
Standing an impressive 8 metres, the bronzed brass cylindrical cask is equipped with mechanisms for the automatic opening and rotation of the doors.
These fold and rotate like a giant blooming flower.
This innovation gives you a rare glimpse of the degassing phase of the coffee bean roasting process.
Stretching in front of the Roaster and Cask is the main bar.
Here you can purchase classic espresso or opt to try one of the more than 100 cutting-edge coffee variations. These range from pour over and chemex coffee brewing, to siphon and cold brew.
You can also sample the Starbucks version of affogato, Italy’s beloved liquid dessert.
In theatrical ‘Fire and Ice’ fashion, the artisanal ice cream is frozen to order using liquid nitrogen. It is then “drowned” with a steaming hot espresso shot.
Alternatively, you can choose to take in the atmosphere of Piazza Cordusio.
Sit outside on the terrace and enjoy your coffee,cocktails and cuisine in a distinctly European outdoor cafe environment.
Adorning the portico which protects the terrace is a hand carved carrara marble statue of a siren, the symbol of Starbucks.
A Cultural Exchange in the Heart of Milan
Old mixes with new at the Milan Roastery, a perfect metaphor for the meeting of American and Italian coffee cultures.
The interior is designed as a homage to traditional Italian design. But the same time the latest technology is used to showcase the theatre of roasting coffee, brewing, and mixology, recreating the experience that inspired Howard Schultz.
With a nod to the old, local artisans, using a uniquely Northern Italian technique, hand-laid the multi-hued mosaic floor in a traditional Palladian style.
The pink-hued Candoglia marble in the terrazzo floor comes from a quarry owned by the Citizens of Milan. It was previously used exclusively for the Duomo of Milan and buildings in the surrounding piazza.
Materials of old are used.
For example, the Calacatta marble countertops throughout the Roastery, are sourced from quarries mined since the time of Ancient Rome to construct the Pantheon and Trajan’s Column.
They are a subtle hat-tip to the traditional coffee bars in Italy, which have stone countertops.
And in a nod to the new-the counters stay warm thanks to an innovative hidden radiant heating system.
Upstairs on the mezzanine is a further nod to the Italian tradition of pre-dinner drinks and snacks.
Here you can discover the Arriviamo Cocktail Bar.
This is where mixologists create over 100 varieties of cocktails behind a 10-meter long marble bar carved from a single block of Calacatta Macchia Vecchia.
It’s not just about the Product. It’s about the Experience.
The traditional Italian coffee bar is a narrow place with very little comforts.
Customers just step in, order a coffee (nearly always an espresso) down the brew whilst standing at the counter and then exit.
Some bars don’t even have tables and seats.
Others do, but you may be charged extra to be seated.
FYI- “banco” is the price if you stand at the counter and “tavolo” is the price to be seated.
So it’s generally not a place to linger, unlike Starbucks.
At the Roastery Milan you can sit in a comfortable seat or sofa.
Enjoy free wifi if you need to work, catch up on emails or share your stunning photos of the nearby Duomo with your friends.
Here you are encouraged to linger, enjoy the art and science of coffee and literally drink in the essence of Milan.