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Why it took Starbucks 45 years to announce a store in Italy

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Starbucks is preparing to take up one of its biggest challenges yet: opening its first store in Italy, the birthplace of the espresso.

The coffee chain recently announced that its first store will open in Milan in 2017, and acknowledged the "unique challenges" it will face entering the epicenter of European coffee culture.

"Our first store will be designed with painstaking detail and great respect for the Italian people and coffee culture," Starbucks chair and CEO Howard Schultz said in a press release Monday. "We're going to try, with great humility and respect, to share what we've been doing and what we've learned,"

The long-awaited opening is a symbolic move for Starbucks. Schultz was inspired to bring espresso drinks back to the United States after visiting the country in the 1980s.

The coffee chain currently has 2,400 stores in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (approximately 10 percent of its stores globally), but has not had an easy time introducing its trademark drinks, like the Frappuccino, to the international market.

Starbucks reported its first profit in Britain only last year after being in the market for 17 years. In 2008 the chain announced it would be closing the majority of its stores in Australia – another country that takes its coffee very seriously – giving some insight into why it has taken Starbucks 45 years to venture into the Italian market.

The company, which has 22,000 branches in 67 different countries, believes Europe is "a critically important" place for growth, according to reporting from the New York Times. In 2012, Starbucks's chief financial officer, Troy Alstead, told the Times that he knows the coffee chain "can have a bigger impact" on the continent.

China has proven to be Starbucks's largest market outside the US, with 3,400 new coffee shops planned to open by 2019. But in countries with deep roots in cafe culture, the chain has adapted by changing recipes and styles of service.

In France, for example, the stores added additional seating to accommodate the country's leisurely coffee drinkers; in England, baristas have added additional shots of espresso to lattes, because the English found the American recipe to be too watery.

As for Italy, Starbucks said it is confident Italians are "ready to live the Starbucks experience."

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