Thursday, February 09, 2006

No Starbucks Here!

The last time Gabriel and I were walking in downtown Geneva, Switzerland (his hometown) we were shocked to see a big Starbucks on a main corner, a prime, prime spot in the city. Maybe to any of you who live in the States or any other place other than Italy, this might not seem so strange but to me, it was a revelation. When you live in Italy you enjoy the luxury of the best coffee* (O.K., in Spain the coffee is different but to my mind, just as good) on every streetcorner and for 80 cents per espresso - less if you're not in Milan. Great coffee is a common denominator here. Everybody from cool fighetti downtown suit-wearing business types to cleaning ladies stop off and grab at least one coffee every day. I don't know if Starbucks with it's $4 grande raspberry-mocha frappuccinos figures it won't make much profit with this 80 cent competition or if the Italian government is protecting the 100% small business coffee shop industry here (I know of no coffee shop chains in Milan, just mom & pop shops) but I'm so glad for my Starbucks-less existence.
Just as with great produce, coffee is something everyone expects in Italy and in the States it's often very expensive and thought of as elite. In Italy, coffee shops look a lot less elegant as those in the States and there is usually no cool jazz playing in the background either. I remember last summer hanging out with my friend Debbie having a cup of coffee in a Hinsdale, IL Starbucks while we were visiting from Italy. The place was full of well-heeled moms and their kids, not that I would expect a heterogeneous clientele anywhere in Hinsdale. I hadn't been in a Starbucks for at least a year if not, more and I was shocked by the seductive photos on the walls there. They depicted the many stages of coffee cultivation and production in a way that conveyed to me an attempt to justify the exorbitant prices. No matter how poignantly the coffee-picker's rough hands are portrayed on the walls, Starbucks coffee does not behave in a more fair way toward its producers than anybody who sells cheaper coffee. Those extra dollars you spend for a Starbucks coffee go into other pockets. Like at Whole Foods, I think the price goes into making the particular Starbucks clientele feel better about something.


Anonymous House Italy said...

I like this blog..

9:17 PM  
Blogger Haalo said...

My favourite Italian coffee experience was going to the market in Florence first thing in the morning for a caffe latte (and a little dolce) - for a ridiculous 40 euro cents a cup! This little stall had more atmosphere than a starbucks could ever dream of having.
Now if only some parts of Italy could get rid of the McDonalds invasion!

3:57 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Haalo, You know, actually there is a small town in Southern Italy where a McDonald's opened up and lasted only about a year before closing. There seems to be a great, cheap foccacia joint in the same piazza who drove them right out of business!

10:19 PM  

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