If Willy Wonka Opened a Coffee Shop

Jamie Grill-Goodman
Editor in Chief
Jamie goodman

Will Italians embrace Starbucks on their soil or will it remain forever a tourist spot? TBD. Either way the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan looks like something out of a Willy Wonka factory, for coffee. If Wonka used augmented reality (AR).

Italy marks the company’s 78th global market the first time Starbucks has established its retail presence in a new country with the Roastery format, of which only two others exist in the world: the Seattle Roastery, which opened in 2014, and the Roastery in Shanghai, which debuted in 2017.

As customers enter the Roastery in the historic Poste building in Piazza Cordusio they are met with a view that spans every aspect of the Roastery experience. Vibrant colors reflective of the Italian fashion and design community greet each person, and over the course of the day, the space transforms from the light filtering through the glass ceiling. 

At the heart of the retail store is a fully-functioning Scolari coffee roaster, manufactured just miles outside of the center of Milan. To the right, customers find the main bar. The wood-fronted bar features fluting, which echoes a motif found in Italian architecture, and is topped with marble sourced from the world-famous quarries of Tuscany. To the left is a Princi Bakery, complete with a wood-fired oven, built brick by brick onsite. Upstairs on the mezzanine, customers find the Arriviamo Bar – where mixologists are on hand to create specialty cocktails behind a 30-foot-long marble bar carved from a single block of Calacatta Macchia Vecchia.

Outside on the building’s terrace sits a street-side café environment. Also adorning the Roastery’s portico is a statue of a siren – the symbol of Starbucks– completely hand-carved in Carrara marble by Tuscan sculptor Giovanni Balderi.

Throughout the Roastery, the physical retail environment is complemented by an interactive AR experience, encouraging customers to use their mobile device to uncover more about Starbucks Reserve coffees, the roasting process and the company. The centerpiece of the AR experience is a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall visual representation of Starbucks history and its coffee – engraved in brass by local craftsmen, burnished to an ombre finish and backlit to bring warmth to the story.

“We have spent the past year living and breathing the city of Milan, working closely with dozens of local artisans to bring to life our most beautiful retail experience that engages each one of our customers’ senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and of course, taste,” said Liz Muller, chief design officer, Starbucks. “From the palladiana flooring that was chiseled by hand to the bright green clackerboard made by Italian craftsman Solari, everything you see in the Roastery is intentional, offering moments of discovery and transparency.”


At the heart of Starbucks premium Reserve brand are the Arabica coffees, which are brought to life by seven highly-skilled roasters who have spent nearly a year training in Starbucks roasting plants around the world. The Milan Roastery is the first place in Europe where Starbucks small-lot Reserve coffee will be roasted. The Roastery provides customers unprecedented visibility to all aspects of the roasting process, with a 360-degree walk-around view of the manufacturing site.

This transparency into the science and craft starts with green coffee being poured out of burlap sacks, continues through the roaster and sweeping cooling trays, and reaches a dramatic crescendo as the 22 foot-high bronze cask unfolds like a blooming flower, allowing a glimpse inside of the de-gassing chamber – a natural part of the roasting process.

From there, coffee whizzes overhead through copper pipes directly to silos at the coffee bars, where customers can enjoy a fresh cup of Reserve coffee, or to the in-house pack line to be packaged for distribution.

The coffee bar will serve as the stage where baristas will handcraft a menu of more than 115 beverages across multiple brewing methods. The main bar will also feature an affogato station where ice cream is hand-crafted, made-to-order, using a unique and theatrical liquid nitrogen finish to create the perfect ice cream to be paired with a delicious shot of espresso, another first for Starbucks.

And for customers wishing to take a piece of the Roastery experience home, is the Scooping Bar, where guests purchase specially-packaged, freshly-roasted coffee beans from Starbucks Reserve coffees, including some that are exclusive to the Milan Roastery. The display of coffee in bins and scooping silos and the grocery scales and paper packaging are evocative of the experience of buying dry goods by the gram, freshly packaged.

The Princi Bakery in the Milan Roastery is anchored by a wood-fired oven made using an ancient technique, with a unique method of radiating heat using fire. In this area guests can also see the dough being made, a view of the whole process that is similar to the coffee journey on display elsewhere in the Roastery.

At Arriviamo, a team of mixologists create beverages from classic Italian favorites such as the Spritz and Negroni to cold-brewed coffee cocktails.

“During my first trip to Milan in 1983, I was captivated by the sense of community I found in the city’s espresso bars – the moments of human connection that passed so freely and genuinely between baristas and their customers. The opening of the Milan Roastery is the story of Starbucks coming full circle,” said Howard Schultz, chairman emeritus of Starbucks. “Everything we have experienced, since that first moment of inspiration 35 years ago to now being a daily part of millions of people’s lives around the world, we bring with great respect to Italy.”

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds