updated 5/29/2008 9:31:24 PM ET 2008-05-30T01:31:24

Global coffee giant Starbucks opens it first store in Argentina on Friday, with beverages tailored to the local palate.

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The Seattle-based chain will offer Argentines a coffee drink made with “dulce de leche,” a traditional caramel-style cream, and a milky “mate” latte based on the tealike infusion popular in the South American country.

Starbucks already has coffee stores in seven Latin American nations, including neighboring Chile, which has 25 stores, and Brazil, which has opened 18 stores since 2006.

Starbucks Corp. Latin America President Buck Hendrix told The Associated Press that Brazil was a “good gauge” for the kind of growth the company was expecting for Argentina.

Hendrix cautioned that Starbucks would have to work hard to win over Argentines.

“The local coffee-house culture here is the strongest of any country in Latin America,” he said. “Because of that we knew Argentina would be a difficult market for us to be successful in.”

He expects to open as many as four stores by year’s end, saying he wasn’t concerned about the historically unstable Argentine economy, which has been racked recently by high inflation.

Decreased profits in the U.S. market have forced Starbucks to look abroad, and Argentina is part of that growth strategy.

A traditional coffee shop around the corner from the new Starbucks in the trendy Palermo neighborhood was humming Thursday night.

“I’m not worried about Starbucks,” manager Alfredo Vizcarra said. “Maybe they’ll suck up some of our customers in the first four months because of the novelty factor. But we’ve got our loyal customers and they’re sticking with us.”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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