Consumption habits are changing in Italy

I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Italy that included multiple cities, a trade show, a roaster visit and a strike. And after a week of using them, I believe I can say with great confidence that I am now expert of not only Milan’s subway system, but the Trenord and Trenitalia train systems!

The main purpose of the trip was to attend Host Milan, the largest trade show for the foodservice and hospitality industries, which takes place in in Milan every two years. It was my third time attending the show, and the coffee and tea pavilions seem to expand with each show. Some companies like IMA Coffee Hub, enlarged their booths, while others such as Ronnefeldt Tea and Lincoln & York (private label coffee roasters) were first-time exhibitors. But while tea is a component, Host Milan is definitely more heavily skewed to coffee (IMA, for example, displayed only machinery from its coffee divisions, not its tea.)

Sustainability was a key trend with many companies touting more sustainable methods and packaging. In particular, there were many eco-friendly (compostable or biodegradable) Nespresso-compatible pods, such as Caffè Poli that was highlighting pods made from 100% recycled plastic. There was a strong presence of herbal teas and fruit/herbal-infused teas, cold brew and nitro cold brew coffee, and even a company – ICAF – claiming to have Italy’s first “Coffee & Cannabis,” made with hemp seed. I also noticed several companies offering reduced caffeine coffee, with the primary supplement being barley, which is apparently very popular in Italy.

There were also more coffee classes offered this year, with topics ranging from Espresso and Cappuccino with Latte Art (using specialty and sustainable coffees) to How Small and Medium Enterprises Can Be Sustainable in the Espresso World to Roasting Specialty Coffee/Coffee Roasting for Quality Control, as well as How to Taste Espresso: Sensory Analysis Workshop, and Different Doses, Water Temperature, Shower Heads and Filters for a Specialty Coffee Extraction, to name just a few. Unfortunately, despite the growth of the show and its effort to become more international (evidenced by the multinational companies exhibiting and attendees), most of the classes were in Italian, without the benefit of translations, but there were some in English. As Host Milan has grown and improved in just the last three that I attended, maybe by the 2021 event, translation abilities will be more prevalent.

After Milan and a day trip to Como Lago, I visited the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, which is not far from the Duomo Piazza. Before its opening in late 2018, many wondered how receptive Italians would be to the multinational coffee chain, given Italians strict coffee preferences and consumption habits. However, industry watchers also noted that it was smart for the Seattle, Washington-based company to open a Reserve Roastery first rather than a standard café and that it would likely be frequented by “a lot of tourists.” And while the Reserve Roastery, a truly beautiful store (both inside and out), was filled with ample tourists, there were just as many Italians, hanging out sampling the different types of coffee available and eating (the Milan Reserve even offered a Nitro Cold Brew Gelato). Starbucks has since opened a “regular” café at the Milan Central Station — another smart move given the amount of foot traffic as well as combination of tourists and locals passing through the station on a daily basis (I was at the station four times in a week!)

I eventually headed down to Trieste to visit illycaffè. What an impressive company and facility — the illycaffè visit will be covered in a 2020 issue of T&CTJ. A beautiful port city, Trieste does love its caffès and pasticcerias, it seemed as though there were two per block! I visited the historic Caffè degli Specchi (founded 1839) and tried their version of a caffè mocha made with dark chocolate, incredibly decadent and delicious, of course.

Perhaps most surprising about this trip to Italy was not the impressive growth of Host Milan, the popularity of both Starbucks outlets, the poor WiFi throughout the country, or even the strike that impacted trains going to the airport the day of my departure, but what I saw at the Venezia Mestre train station — a Chock full o’Nuts shop. The shop was promoting “Proudly Serving New York’s Coffee” (the brand has been around since 1932) and offered American-style filter coffee – something I never thought I would see in Italy – as well as espresso and cappuccino. Chock full o’Nuts offered American and Italian style breakfasts along with food and coffee “combos.” And there was a line full of people waiting to be served.

Seeing Italians drinking Chock full o’Nuts Coffee was more astounding than Starbucks’ apparent success in Italy or even the first time I saw “to go” coffee in France (“café à emporter”). Oh, how times – and coffee consuming habits – are changing!

  • Vanessa L Facenda, editor Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. She may be cotacted via [email protected].

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