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23 Jun, 2009 09:39

Coffee – not every Indian’s cup of tea

India is one of the world’s largest tea producers, and has traditionally been a tea-drinking nation, but the increasing popularity of coffee has spawned a new café culture in the country.

However, the western-style coffee shops and their high prices are not to everyone’s taste.

In urban India, lifestyles change fast to reflect international tastes. The most visible symbol is the coffee shop. With several local chains dominating the market, and international players now setting up shop, coffee is in.

“India has not been a coffee-drinking country, but with a lot of people here being more mobile in terms of international travel etc. they’re now getting exposed to the coffee culture,” Sanjay Coutinho, the COO Barista Coffee Company, explained.

“Who knew espresso all this while? Now there are a lot of people who talk about espresso and that niche itself is growing,” he added.

Coffee shops have become popular youth hangouts, where college students meet, and professionals unwind with friends. For some, it’s also a great place to catch up on work:

“You can even do your assignments here. You can talk about a lot of things. You can sit many hours here. If you want to bunk college, you can bunk college and come here. So it’s a getaway kind of place – sit here, have a coffee. One coffee, and you can talk for hours,” Yashi Rawat, a coffee shop customer, said.

While the cappuccino and espresso are popular, the big draw are coffee-based cold drinks, which are blended with ice cream and better suited to India’s hot climate.

However, a coffee at a trendy coffee shop costs upwards of one dollar twenty cents. That may not seem much, but it’s still five times the cost of a traditional coffee shop. Most Indians may not be comfortable paying that kind of money for a coffee, when it could buy a whole meal elsewhere. RT spoke to a few people on the street to see what they think.

“This is coffee? I don't drink coffee,” one exclaimed.

“We drink tea. If you give me tea at 3am I’ll drink it, if you give me tea instead of food, I’ll still drink it. This coffee I don’t like. It’s ready-made, unlike tea which is brewed in front of me. I don’t know how these foreign products have taken over,” another admitted.

“I drink tea everyday. Coffee depends on my mood. In this heat one can’t drink coffee. But if it rains and the temperature comes down, then I like having a cold coffee,” another passerby explained.

Yet the price of coffee seems to be a deciding factor for many:

“For the cost of this coffee, I can drink tea for a month,” one resident exclaimed.

“Value for money at times is perceived as only price, but India is not so price-sensitive. You have people really splurging. You have people coming with a bundle of notes, willing to spend. That’s not really an issue. As long as you give a great product, you give great experience, you give great ambience, you give great stores – I think pricing is not an issue at all,” Sanjay Coutinho said.

Clearly there are those in India willing to pay for a world-class experience. And with coffee the flavour of the season, the neighbourhood coffee shop in India seems set to continue as the place to be seen.