Coffee Connections

Sitting in Cafes and Starbucks – Part 1

The perfect cup should be

Black as the devil

Hot as hell

Pure as an angel

Sweet as love

Sitting in cafes and spending long hours is not an alien concept to Indians. While most such excursions are limited to small groups, what you actually do spending this time inside also matters. An old-school practice would be to take comfort in a book or catch up on any artistic pursuit like writing or sketching/doodling. I have observed some trends while living and visiting cafes in Bangalore for the past 15 years or so.

While a Café Coffee Day would be the only urban/upmarket café for many years at a stretch, I never really got the sense that the chain was around coffee, or nurturing coffee as a connoisseur’s thing. It was more about cashing in on the city’s growing needs to have a place to chill out or take group photos with friends. The few coffee beverages that CCD had which veered a little towards ‘coffee’ – Aztec/Ethiopia left a lot more to be desired, and for most times, gave me a bad high because of the consistently acute lack of attention given to preparing them.

Over the years, we saw many more café chains pop-up, mostly western brands like Costa, Barista, CBTL (Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf), and Gloria Jean’s. Barista and Costa were quite the improved version of CCD and provided coffee lovers with a few more coffee options and some much better brews, while the latter was more aimed at a high paying customer. I did like CBTL the best among these, for their variety and more Starbucks’ presentation style, the ambiance of the stores, and branding. I remember Gloria Jean’s for the cool branding, merchandise and my favorite drink there, Iced Cappuccino.

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Art by Seema Misra

For reasons little known, most of these stores started dwindling around 2012-2014. And this was the same time Starbucks made an entry to the Indian scene, with much fanfare. I, however, was a little skeptical to step in the store. The Tata association (coffee was co-sourced through Tata’s extensive network of plantations) made me more cautious about the availability of the classic Starbucks blends like Sumatra, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

My first few visits to the Bangalore Starbucks stores weren’t too pleasant either, at times I felt the staff weren’t equipped to handle the highly diverse and over-demanding crowd, and other times the obvious and marked difference in the quality and range of beverages ticked me off a bit. That changed for the better gradually as I started visiting few outlets and warmed up to the staff and events like coffee tastings, and the quintessential Starbucks air and buzz started taking a seat in an Indian setting soon.

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