October 19, 2007
The coffee war
While the front pages talk about the ongoing war in Iraq, a possible return of the cold war with Russia and the shadow of civil war in Pakistan, the economic pages reported on the coffee war with an article entitled, "Offensive Anti-Starbucks by the Caffè Made in Italy". The "enemy" to beat is Starbucks in this economic and cultural war.
The Italians have launched pre-emptive action. Lavazza is aiming to bring coffee-shops to every street corner in Europe, starting with Spain, France and Portugal, and even as far as India. Illy, instead, has chosen the route of culture (through founding L'università del caffè in Trieste) and diplomacy (an agreement with Coca Cola to launch a joint line of high-end coffee products) and Bialetti is opening a chain of stores selling its famous moka coffee makers, together with a cup of cappuccino. The real coffee king, though, is the Zanetti Beverage Group which already runs a franchising of over 700 Italian coffee shops around the world.
The question is, can they hold the Goliath at bay? Maybe not elsewhere, but hopefully in Italy, which already has a well-defined coffee culture rooted in everyday life and intimately connected to the concept of "your local bar" with its endless morning conversations, meetings and memories. I can even see my local bar from my balcony. It is run by Mario, his wife, two of his three sons and one daughter-in-law.
In addition to homemade muffins for breakfast and a good selection of wines to take home for dinner,
they also have a small trattoria in the backroom with a few daily dishes.
Besides running a bar, Mario is a local figure full of historical knowledge. He recently published a book in which he recounts the lives of various characters that lived our neighborhood during his childhood, a tribute to Monteverde poco fa.
Personally, he has given me a great running route in Villa Pamphili, passed on keys to guests and messages to friends, and told me many stories.
Why would I want an over sized, over priced, milky, sweet, syrupy concoction in an over sized plastic cup in an environment that is the same all over the world in the place of a cappuccino da Mario?
A true global mystery.