When you think of Italy, coffee is probably one of the first things you think of.

Whether it's a cappuccino or an espresso, a cup of coffee is right up there with a glass of wine as the national drink of Italy. Well, the Italian coffee market is about to be shaken up, or at least lightly stirred.

Seattle coffee shop giant Starbucks has announced it will enter the Italian market starting with 2017. The first store is expected to open in Milan, and others will follow if the first is successful

This is something like completing the circle for Starbucks founder Howard Schultz. Schultz says he got the idea of bringing espresso culture to the US while visiting Milan back in the 1980s. 

What took so long?

Chiara Albanese, a reporter for Bloomberg in Rome, thinks Starbucks faces a real challenge breaking into Italy's proud coffee culture.

"Italians are really loyal and traditional when it comes to coffee. They do like their espresso in the morning. They like it very dark, very short," she says. "According to the Italian federation of coffee, Italians drink 6 billion espressos a year and they are quite skeptical when it comes to American coffee. Probably Starbucks was scared of not being able to break into that tradition."

Albanese says Starbucks will have to convince Italians that American coffee is not synonymous with bad quality. Or a watered-down version of the real thing.

"I moved back to Italy from London recently and I still tend to drink americano. And they were looking at me in a really bad way just because I was not drinking the espresso," Albanese says.
That's not their only problem. Most Italians wouldn't dream of having their coffee in a cardboard cup.

And here's another challenge for Starbucks. Italians don't really hang out over coffee — comfy couch or not. They're more used to walking up to their neighborhood coffee bar and chugging their espresso on the spot.

But Albanese thinks some Italians could be open to re-thinking that routine.

"Those who might be are the young generation, the ones that drink coffee while working. They could make use of Starbucks' space — the idea of bringing your laptop to a coffee shop, logging into the WiFi and spending a couple of hours working," she says. "[That's] not something you can do in a typical coffee shop here, where you receive your cappuccino standing, or just on the go."

From PRI's The World ©2015 Public Radio International