Coffee meets olive oil: The story behind Starbucks new coffee ritual – 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 debuted in February at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milan and in Starbucks stores in Italy, and have since been introduced in the United States, Japan, UK, France, and now Canada.

The origins of Oleato

Schultz 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 prepared to step down in March after serving for the prior 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 flavour 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 flavour 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 flavour. 

“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 flavour 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 oat beverage, 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 flavours that are delicious both hot and iced. For the Starbucks Reserve Roastery beverages (destinations outside of Canada), 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 were the first to try to the new Oleato beverages 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.” 

Learn more about Oleato beverages at Starbucks stores in Canada.

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‘By us and for us:’ New Starbucks merch inspired by LGBTQ+ community