February 27, 2023
Italians have rules about coffee. Cappuccino, for instance, is a morning drink, so don’t try ordering it for an afternoon pick-me-up. In most cafes, coffee is consumed standing at the counter; and variations in orders are few, usually involving only the amount of water and/or milk to be added, reports The New York Times.
Still, Starbucks—which breaks all those rules with its long menu of options served at any time of day—opened in Italy here in 2018 and has amassed a serious following. On Wednesday, February 22, the company bet on Italy once more with a combination of two ingredients at the heart of this country’s food pyramid: coffee and olive oil.
The new beverages, branded Oleato, debuted this week at an invitation-only dinner (co-hosted with the National Chamber of Italian Fashion) at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan on Tuesday, the first day of Fashion Week. Lizzo performed. Vogue’s top editor in America, Anna Wintour, attended.
On Wednesday, Oleato, which can mean oiled, oleate or greaseproof in Italian (and which is now trademarked by Starbucks), was introduced to the masses at the company’s flagship Italian venue in downtown Milan. Five olive oil-infused beverages were on the menu, including the golden foam espresso martini, which concluded the dinner.
In an online introduction, Howard Schultz, a longtime leader at Starbucks, promoted the new coffee line as a “transformational idea”—his own—which came to him while he was traveling through Italy last summer. He called it, glowingly, “a unique alchemy of two of nature’s most transcendent ingredients.”
“Italians have embraced Starbucks in a way that many did not see coming,” Schultz said in his introduction.
The steady line of customers waiting to be served at the Milan roastery on Tuesday suggested, at the very least, that adding olive oil to coffee may have generated some buzz. To be fair, people have been drinking coffee with butter for a while now.
Writing in La Stampa, the food critic Lorenzo Cresci gave the “Oleato golden foam cold brew” a vote of 6.5 out of 10 and said that, “overall, it can be appreciated.” He rated the caffè latte a 7, with “a strong flavor that leaves a pleasant taste in the mouth.” And he noted an orange flavor that dominated the Oleato iced cortado, giving it a 6.5.
Some olive oil producers are intrigued by the new horizons that could open from adding olive oil to coffee, “a very challenging innovation” that could relaunch olive oil’s image “especially among young people,” Anna Cane, president of the olive oil group of the Italian Association of the Edible Oil Industry, said in an email.
“On one hand, it’s good, because people are speaking about coffee. On the other, it takes away a slice of the market, because if you’re drinking that product, you’re not drinking espresso,” said Giorgio Caballini di Sassoferrato, the founder and president of a consortium that is trying to persuade UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, to recognize espresso as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Traditional Italian espresso, he says, is “a culture, a ritual, a social tradition. It’s not a product, it’s a system,” in which class and financial status don’t count. For the most part, “rich or poor, people drink espresso in bars.” It typically costs between around one euro or just above; Starbucks is considerably pricier.
Coffee with olive oil, on the other hand, left Caballini di Sassoferrato “a bit perplexed,” he said.
Research contact: @nytimes