MILAN (Reuters) - Around two hundred people queued outside the first Starbucks cafe in Italy on Friday, as the world's biggest coffee chain faces one of its toughest tests yet with an upmarket roastery in the centre of Milan.
Coffee-obsessed Italy has more than 57,000 cafes and Starbucks, at its lavish roastery decorated with brass and marble, is charging almost twice what Italians are used to paying for their daily espresso drunk standing at a bar.
Yet people who stood in line in the central Cordusio square seemed undeterred by the prices which have drawn complaints from an Italian consumer association.
The opening enticed curious Italians and tourists alike.
"I hope the coffee here tastes better than it does in America," said Milan resident Sonia Vesti.
The cafe features a green industrial-scale roaster and serves coffee made only with premium-quality Arabica beans, while most Italian cafes use a cheaper blend.
Cocktails, pastry and ice creams are also on sale at the store that marks the realisation of a lifetime dream for Howard Schultz, the man who turned Starbucks into the world's biggest coffee chain.
Schultz has said he was inspired to develop Starbucks, which now spans almost 29,000 stores worldwide, during a 1983 visit to Italy where he was struck by the rapport between baristas and their clients.
The Milan shop is Starbucks' first roastery in Europe. There are two others, in Seattle and Shanghai.
The coffee market is one of the few fast-growing areas of the drinks market and global food groups like Nestle are signing deals to get a share of the action.
Coca-Cola agreed to buy Costa, the world's second-biggest coffee chain, last week, while Nestle bought from Starbucks the exclusive rights to sell the U.S. chain's packaged coffees and teas around the world.
Starbucks' arrival in Italy could shake up the local cafe industry, analysts said.
"Our research shows younger Italians, 16-34 year olds, are much more open to American coffee-style concepts such as flavoured Frappuccino's, cold brew and more lightly roasted coffee," said Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst at market research group Mintel.
Starbucks plans to open four traditional cafeterias in Milan with local partner Antonio Percassi by the end of this year, the group's Global President of Retail, John Culver, told Reuters.
(Reporting by Francesca Landini, Stefano Rellandini and Lisa Di Giuseppe; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)