Starbucks is once again daring to challenge Italy’s sacred coffee-drinking tradition by blending the beverage with another of the country’s revered food items: olive oil.
The US chain launched a range of coffees laced with olive oil at its main store in central Milan on Wednesday.
Called oleato – a play on words between the Italian terms oliva (olive) and oliato (meaning oiled, and, by extension, smooth) – the range includes an iced shaken espresso, an espresso martini and olive oil latte “steamed with oat milk”.
The idea came to Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz, he said, during a trip to Sicily, where he adopted a daily ritual of taking a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil along with his morning coffee before deciding to experiment by mixing the two together.
In an announcement on the company’s website, Shultz, whose vision for Starbucks came about during a visit to Italy in 1983, said he can’t remember a moment in the last 40 years when he’s been “more excited, more enthused”, adding that olive oil’s “unexpected, velvety, buttery flavour … enhanced the coffee and lingers beautifully on the palate”.
When Starbucks first ventured to Italy in 2018 with its inaugural store – the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan – it caused a mini-uproar among coffee traditionalists, with many seeing it as an attack on the home of espresso and not needed in a country full of traditional coffee bars.
But the vibe has shifted since then, and customers at the store on Piazza Cordusio – a former post office designed much like a coffee museum – appeared to be in less of a froth about the olive oil-infused line.
Not far from Milan’s famed cathedral, a bold yellow sign announced that the product is now on sale, while a large can of oil stood in the centre of the store.
An oleato latte was described by one customer as having a “sweeter taste” that “went down smoother”.
Another said that “the taste of coffee dominates the oil”.
Others, however, were not up for trying. Maria Franceschi, who works for the nearby municipality of Milan, said she is not opposed to Starbucks coffee but “oil and coffee are different tastes” that could not possibly be paired together.
Dennis D’Anna, a bar worker from Catania who was visiting Milan to watch a Champions League match, said he prefers normal coffee but that “novelties are not necessarily to be rejected”.
Bar owners in the area also took the arrival of olive-oil coffee in their stride. “Coffee is oily by nature,” said Marcello Mannile, the owner of the Rose by Mary bar. “If you take a coffee bean and put it in your mouth you’ll notice it.”
However, even though he serves his customers cocktails with olive oil, he said they’re not quite ready to add it to their coffee due to “a cultural factor”.
Still, he believes oleato has the potential to be successful because Italy is much more international than in the past, with even culinary traditionalism slowly fading: “We are willing to experiment much more. If you still want to find authentic Italian coffee, you must go outside the big cities.”
In short, in Italy coffee is sacred, but a drop of olive oil doesn’t hurt.