TRAVEL

Savor Milan's Coffee Culture Like a Local

Starbucks’ New Reserve Roastery In Milan. Credit: Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milan

When Starbucks decided to open in Milan, I will admit, I was slightly heartbroken, but after having visited and given a behind-the-scenes peek at the Reserve Roastery, I understand that the Milan venture is very meta. Milanese love it because it reminds them of the US, and no, it's not going to replace the Italian coffee shop. This article first appeared in Forbes Travel in September 2018.

While Europe’s first Reserve Roastery from Starbucks adds a new corner to Milan’s coffee landscape, it’s best to remember that Italy’s fashion capital perfected the pastry scene, introduced espresso to the world and invented aperitivo hour long before the Seattle-based shop started whipping up frappuccinos.

Still, this September-opened artisan coffee shop is just the third in the world after Seattle and Shanghai. The 25,000-square-foot Reserve is a celebratory, steampunk nod to Seattle coffee-making. Venetian marble counters, glass light fixtures and Palladiana mosaic floors offer a locally inspired backdrop to a labyrinth of sorting tubes and a mega-roaster that is said to provide coffee for all of Europe. 

The Reserve Roastery’s menu is a deep dive into coffee culture, from bean selection and roasting to offering multiple brewing methods (Modbar pour-over, coffee press and the visually stunning siphon) and beverages (espresso, cold brew and the proprietary clover-brewed coffee).

During your next stroll around this cultural gem, visit the stylish new Starbucks or any of these five more inimitable bars for a taste of the city’s caffeinated history.

Caffè Parigi. Credit: Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa Milano

Caffè Parigi
Hidden inside Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa Milano, this cozy spot boasts a warm wood living room with a backlit, veined marble bar, art-nouveau-style decorations and giant windows leading to an outdoor garden — if the weather permits, try to snag an alfresco seat.  

The bistro lounge is ideal for a nightcap and its afternoon tea (served daily from 4 to 7 p.m.) is a chic, Parisian-style treat.

What to order: You can get your caffeine of choice during the day, but ask the bartender for a classic negroni to wind down your evening.

Pasticceria Marchesi
This nearly two-century-old, family-run gem is one of the crown jewels of Milanese pastry shops. Designed by architect Roberto Baciocchi, its three locations are beautiful with mint green marble walls, cherry wood counters and clear crystal shelves that show off cakes, croissants, chocolates, jams and delectable confections. 

Traditionally the spot for stylish edible gifts, Marchesi has a gorgeous lounge area peppered with Milan’s fashion fabulous who gather over coffee and afternoon aperitivi.

What to order:  During the holidays, you’ll want to queue for a panettone (Marchesi’s coveted Christmas treat) or the Easter colomba cake. Otherwise, peruse the counter for any of the pastries before heading to the lounge to nibble on your purchase.

Cova. Credit: Cova

Cova
This Via Montenapoleone stalwart has long been a favorite of the international fashion scene. Mosaic floors, gilded mirrors and a crystal chandelier drop not-so-subtle hints that Milan takes its coffee as seriously as its style. 

The 200-year-old coffee and pastry shop is worth a visit for the people-watching alone (the bar is a popular spot for the city’s fashion elite). To take it all in, you’ll need to nab a table where coffee drinks and aperitivo cost a little more, but you’ll also receive plush banquets and stellar service.

What to order: In the morning, stand up for the cappuccino and cornetto (cone-shaped pastry), and ask for a scorza d’arancia (chocolate-covered orange peel). In the afternoon, grab a table and a negroni sbagliato (the classic Italian tipple, but topped with prosecco rather than gin), the socialite signora’s favorite.

Bastianello
At first glance, this whimsical spot appears to be a glamorous candy shop with a beautiful carved wood countertop perfect for a morning cappuccino. But the true Milanese know that you come to Bastianello to linger. 

The elegant pastry and coffee shop is the apex of aperitivo hour — its dining room veranda is where the who’s who of the city’s haute bourgeois meet up for handcrafted cocktails and a smattering of snacks.

What to order: Keep it simple with an Americano and the delectable club sandwich.

Pasticceria Cucchi
This traditional pastry shop and bar may not be as fashionable as some other Milanese caffés, but it’s a local institution nonetheless. Its mid-century vibe (think 1950s-era décor and formally clad waiters) charms an eclectic range of customers, from elegant couples to school-aged kids, as does a menu of snacks that includes coffee, sweet pastries, savory finger sandwiches and cocktails.

What to order:  The morning espresso is a must. Or linger into the night with a bite of El Meneghin (cake made with candied fruits) and a glass of maraschino.