The Italian Inspiration Behind Starbucks' First International Store

If you're a coffee fan, the chances are good that you've downed a Starbucks brew in your day, whether you were hustling through an airport or whether a stop at one of the megachain's 35,700-plus locations forms a part of your everyday routine. Perhaps you enjoy a warm caramel macchiato, maybe you like an iced drink such as the dark chocolate mocha, but either way, by this point, you're probably quite used to Starbucks' once-exotic, now-mundane Italian names for the majority of their coffee drinks.

Although coffee parlance such as espresso, latte, cappuccino, and macchiato is now completely common in the United States and around the world, in the 1970s, when the chain was still very small and Seattle-based, it definitely wasn't. But then, in 1982, current CEO Howard Schultz joined the company as director of operations and marketing (via Starbucks). Just a year later, Schultz visited Italy, becoming captivated by Italian coffee bars and all they offered, not only in terms of hot and cold drinks, but also in the customer experience. Schultz returned to Seattle, decided to give all Starbucks stores a decidedly Italian spin going forward, and the rest, well, is history, with plenty of Americans now completely accustomed to ordering grande cappuccinos and demi espressos (via Travel + Leisure).

One of Starbucks' earliest Italian-themed test runs took place in its first Canadian store

As accustomed as Americans — and coffee lovers the world over — may now be to slinging around Italian terminology when ordering a cup of joe, it was actually in Canada where Starbucks took CEO Howard Schultz's idea for an Italian-accented chain for an early test run. Having already established two Seattle stores under the new concept, the official website recounts, in 1987 the chain opened doors at its first international location, just a few hours north in Vancouver.

"The Italians had created the theater, romance, art, and magic of experiencing espresso," Schultz recalled of his trip to Milan in 1983 (via Starbucks). "I was overwhelmed with a gut instinct that this is what we should be doing."

The Canadian store — now nicknamed SeaBus — handily proved Schultz's intuition with its popularity, as did subsequent American stores that opened under the CEO's Italian-scented vision. And in 2018, the pendulum swung full circle when Starbucks opened its first Italian location – in Milan, naturalmente — where caffè-sippers are already quite used to the store's lingo (via Starbucks).