Coffee meets olive oil: The story behind Starbucks new coffee ritual – Starbucks Oleato coffee beverages
Italy has always been a special place for Starbucks. It was four decades ago that Howard Schultz first walked the cobblestone streets of Milan, Italy and experienced the romance of its espresso bars. That visit spurred him to bring the Italian coffeehouse experience to Starbucks and to America, which would grow from just 11 stores to more than 36,000, serving millions of handcrafted beverages each day around the world.
Now Schultz and Starbucks have found inspiration in Italy again, this time in the sun-kissed olive groves of Sicily with the introduction of a new line of beverages, Oleato, Starbucks coffee infused with Partanna extra virgin olive oil. The new beverages are making their debut tomorrow (Feb. 22) at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milan and in Starbucks stores in Italy, followed by Southern California in the United States this spring. Later this year select markets in Japan, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom will launch the beverages. The five Oleato™ beverages served at the Milan Roastery are Oleato™ Caffé Latte, Oleato™ Iced Cortado, Oleato™ Golden Foam™ Cold Brew, Oleato™ Deconstructed and Oleato™ Golden Foam™ Espresso Martini. Starbucks stores in Italy will offer Oleato™ Caffè Latte, Oleato™ Iced Shaken Espresso and Oleato™ Golden Foam™ Cold Brew.
The origins of Oleato
Schultz, currently in Milan for the launch of Oleato, noted how his journey with Starbucks has come full circle with the two milestone moments, one toward the beginning of his career at Starbucks and the other as he is about to step down next month after serving for the last 10 months as Starbucks interim chief executive officer.
“In 1983, I took my first trip to Italy and discovered the extraordinary relationship that the Italian people have with the Italian coffee bar, and specifically espresso. I raced back to the United States with a vision and a passion to bring that to Starbucks,” Schultz said.
Last year, Schultz was traveling in Sicily when he discovered something equally dynamic and interesting. After being introduced to the Mediterranean custom of taking a spoonful of olive oil each day, he soon began enjoying a spoonful of Partanna extra virgin olive oil as part of his daily ritual in addition to his morning coffee, and soon he had the idea of trying the two together. What he discovered was a delicious and unexpected alchemy of Starbucks coffee beverages infused with Partanna extra virgin olive oil.
“I was absolutely stunned at the unique flavor and texture created when the Partanna extra virgin olive oil was infused into Starbucks coffee,” Schultz said. “In both hot and cold coffee beverages, what it produced was an unexpected, velvety, buttery flavor that enhanced the coffee and lingers beautifully on the palate.”
Making beverage history
Excited by the potential, Schultz brought the discovery back to Seattle and the Starbucks beverage development team. From there, Amy Dilger, principal Starbucks beverage developer, took on the task of creating beverages for Starbucks customers. Dilger was uniquely qualified for the challenge, having spent a decade in Europe as a patisserie chef and then more than 20 years on the Starbucks food and beverage team, creating customer favorites like Chestnut Praline Latte and Smoked Butterscotch Latte.
Her first step was learning about olives and their deep connection to Italian culture. Of the hundreds of varieties, Partanna’s blend of extra virgin olive oil created for Starbucks includes one of the most coveted – Nocellara del Belice olives (also called Castelvetrano), which are known for their vibrant and buttery flavor. Dilger spoke with the family farmers behind Partanna extra virgin olive oil, who have nurtured these ancient olive trees in their rich Sicilian soil for four generations. She learned how the olives are picked and cold-pressed within hours to preserve their extraordinary flavor.
“As I learned about Partanna extra virgin olive oil, I kept seeing things that reminded me of Starbucks coffee, specifically how the terroir, the origin, and the varietals contribute to the unique flavor and texture,” Dilger said. Although she had never tried combining extra virgin olive oil and coffee before, she thought of other dishes that highlight olive oil, like Greek yogurt with a drizzle of olive oil, olive oil and sea salt ice cream – and of course, olive oil cake.
“One thing that’s special about the Castelvetrano olives is that they are sweet and really buttery,” Dilger said. “I think of all the buttery caramels that we mix with our coffee. That buttery smooth richness combines so well with our coffee.”
‘A luxurious, textural experience’
Next, she started experimenting in her beverage development kitchen, infusing the Partanna extra virgin olive oil with some of her favorite coffee beverages to create an experience that was revelatory and entirely new.
“The infusion is really important. When you infuse Partanna extra virgin olive oil by steaming or shaking it with oatmilk, it creates this luxurious, textural experience that’s similar to whole milk,” said Dilger. To find the coffee that would pair perfectly with the extra virgin olive oil, she experimented with a variety of Starbucks high-quality arabica blends and chose not one, but two Starbucks espressos. For the lineup in Starbucks stores, Dilger found the Partanna extra virgin olive oil infusions paired beautifully with Starbucks Blonde Espresso Roast, which has smooth well-rounded flavors that are delicious both hot and iced. For the Starbucks Reserve Roastery beverages, she used Starbucks Reserve Espresso, and added an iced cortado beverage with a hint of orange. And for the name, the team settled on Oleato, inspired by the Latin word for “olive” and an Italian word that nods to the process of infusing the olive oil with coffee.
Fittingly, customers in Italy will be the first to try to the new Oleato beverages starting tomorrow at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan and in Starbucks Italy stores.
Schultz said, “Now, there's going to be people who say, ‘Olive oil in coffee? But the proof is in the cup. In over 40 years, I can't remember a moment in time where I've been more excited, more enthused that demonstrates the pride, the quality, the passion, the heritage and the craft of what Starbucks can do.”
Starbucks Oleato™ beverages
Starbucks stores in Italy will offer three Oleato beverages:
Oleato™ Caffè Latte
The Oleato Caffè Latte is simple and elegant, made with Starbucks Blonde Espresso Roast and Partanna extra virgin olive oil steamed with oatmilk to create the most luscious of lattes.
Oleato™ Iced Shaken Espresso
Sicily’s farmer’s markets are filled with an abundance of locally grown almonds, pistachios, walnuts and chestnuts – this was the inspiration for the nut flavor in the Oleato Iced Shaken Espresso. The beverage features layers of subtly sweet Starbucks Blonde Roast Espresso, hazelnut syrup and oatmilk shaken with Partanna extra virgin olive oil and ice.
Oleato™ Golden Foam™ Cold Brew
Creamy cold foam has become a favorite finishing touch for Starbucks cold beverages since 2018 – from the classic Salted Caramel to the new Pistachio Cream Cold Foam. The Oleato™ Golden Foam™ Cold Brew is capped with a layer of Golden Foam, a silky infusion of Partanna extra virgin olive oil with vanilla sweet cream foam, which slowly cascades through the beverage to create a smooth, yet rich, texture.
Starbucks Reserve Oleato beverages
The Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milan will serve its own portfolio of Starbucks Oleato beverages, made with exquisite Starbucks Reserve® coffee:
Oleato™ Caffè Latte: Starbucks Reserve Espresso and creamy oatmilk infused with Partanna extra virgin olive oil, creating a velvety, luscious latte.
Oleato™ Iced Cortado: Starbucks Reserve Espresso, demerara syrup, a dash of orange bitters and oatmilk is infused with Partanna extra virgin olive oil, served over ice and finished with an orange peel.
Oleato™ Golden Foam™ Cold Brew: Starbucks Reserve Cold Brew is lightly sweetened with vanilla syrup and finished with Partanna extra virgin olive oil infused cold foam, creating an inviting aroma and subtle sweetness.
Oleato™ Deconstructed: An ode to the Italian tradition of combining olive oil with a squeeze of lemon. This beverage pairs Starbucks Reserve Espresso and Partanna extra virgin olive oil infused with a luxurious passionfruit cold foam.
Oleato™ Golden Foam™ Espresso Martini: Starbucks Reserve Espresso, vodka and vanilla bean syrup topped with golden foam – a fusion of fior di latte (sweet cream) and Partanna extra virgin olive oil.