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‘Unexpected flavour’: Starbucks launches olive oil coffee in Italy

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‘Unexpected flavour’: Starbucks launches olive oil coffee in Italy
Italy's first Starbucks opened in central Milan in 2018 with an ambitious plan to conquer the spiritual home of espresso. But will olive oil coffee appeal to the Italian market? (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

US coffee giant Starbucks launched a new range of coffees laced with olive oil this week in its latest bid to appeal to the Italian market, but the idea has had a mixed reception.

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You may think Starbucks setting up shop in Italy was a bold enough move, but the US-based chain went a step further this week by launching a new product which combines two Italian culinary staples: coffee and olive oil.

The multinational coffee giant began serving its ‘Oleato’ range of olive oil-infused coffee drinks at its Italian stores on Wednesday, including a Caffè Latte with olive oil and the Iced Shaken Espresso, which it described as a "coffee-forward beverage" containing hazelnut flavouring, oat milk and olive oil.

READ ALSO: Where, when and how to drink coffee like an Italian

According to a Starbucks press release, chief executive Howard Schultz put olive oil in his morning coffee while on holiday in Sicily and was "absolutely stunned" at the "delicious and unexpected alchemy".

He said he got the idea after seeing Sicilians taking a spoon of locally-produced extra virgin olive oil every morning.

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Mixing the oil into his coffee produced “an unexpected, velvety, buttery flavour that enhanced the coffee and lingers beautifully on the palate,” he said.

But in a country which takes its olive oil and coffee seriously, the concept has unsurprisingly had a mixed reception.

Many Italian social media users were immediately sceptical, with some on Twitter calling the idea “disgusting” or an “atrocity”.

Several Italian commenters pointed out that both coffee and olive oil have well-known laxative properties. “The combined effect could be disastrous,” said one.

Others simply said that they wouldn’t visit Starbucks anyway because of the cost.

READ ALSO: ‘Declaration of war’: Outrage in Italy over New York Times tomato carbonara

The new range will use oil from a Sicilian olive variety named Castelvetrano, which Starbucks said was sweet and reminiscent of some of its syrup options.

Starbucks baristas mix the oil with oat milk before pouring the blend into a shot (or two) of espresso coffee to create a flavour described by Starbucks menu developers as “caramel-like.”

The olive oil coffee was debuted in Italy and will be rolled out in southern California and elsewhere in the US later this year, the company said.

Starbucks has been in Italy since 2018, when it said it was entering the Italian market with “humility and respect".

The chain now has 25 branches in Italy, despite predictions that it would not last long in the country famed as Europe's coffee capital and the home of espresso shots drunk standing at the counter at family-owned bars.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why do Italians get so angry if you mess with classic recipes?

Starbucks' locations in Italy are mainly in and around Milan and other parts of northern Italy, which is more affluent and has a higher ratio of international residents than the south.

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The chain is now planning to open its first southern Italian store in central Rome, though the location has not yet been revealed. Local media reports speculate that it will be in the Galleria Alberto Sordi shopping centre on the central Via del Corso.

Other US food and drink chains have proven similarly successful at breaking into the Italian food and drinks market. Despite some protests and pushback, McDonald's is well-established in Italy. In fact, the country now has the fourth-highest number of McDonalds' outlets in Europe.

But other American food chains have had a harder time. In 2022,

Caffè e olio extravergine di oliva: Starbucks lancia, partendo dall’Italia, la nuova linea di bevande “Oleato” ☕️🤔

📸 Starbucks
pic.twitter.com/6hxsDpYpCw

— Trash Italiano (@trash_italiano) February 22, 2023 ">pizza giant Dominos announced the closure of its Italian franchise following poor sales. Dominos had not attempted to open any stores in southern Italy, home of Neapolitan and Roman pizza.

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