It was in 1997, I think, around the beginning of the technology boom that V G Siddhartha started his first coffee shop on Brigade Road in Bangalore. He offered a variety of premium coffees, along with a number of dessert offerings. As an added incentive, he installed a few computers with internet in the shop, and allowed people to browse the web on a per-hour charge.
The same night, the shop was given extensive coverage on NDTV (or was it still Star News then?). The cyber caf? was born, and led to pay-and-use internet browsing becoming an industry in itself. More importantly, it changed the way India viewed its coffee.
Till then, coffee was like curd rice. North Indians looked upon it with a sense of disdain, except when they had to put night outs during their exams. South Indians considered it an inherent part of their culture, only a couple of hundred years after Baba Budan imported it from Mocha.
Coffee was an un-cool drink. It was considered a ?family drink?, and something to help wash down a homely breakfast or ?tiffin?. You had coffee outside only when you went with your dad to the nearby Darshini or Sagar. The ?cool? youngsters of the day only drank Pepsi and Thums Up.
Siddhartha?s next store was in the upmarket Indiranagar, and not long after one could find Caf? Coffee Days (CCD) all over Bangalore. Coffee suddenly became ?cool? and the teenagers of Bangalore, long starved for a decent place to hang out, started flocking to CCD in droves. Your mom wouldn?t say anything if you were going out with friends for a coffee, and for thirty rupees for a Tropical Iceberg, it wasn?t too hard on the pocket also.
In a couple of years, Barista had started finding its roots in Delhi, and Qwiky?s was making a beginning in Chennai. Your average seventeen-year-old could now tell the difference between Espresso and Cappuccino, mock his dad for having the ?downmarket? coffee at the neighborhood Darshini, and convince his mom to only use ?coffee day ultra rich? coffee powder at home.
CCD and Barista expanded fast, with the latter also taking over Qwiky?s. Bangalore alone is now reported to have more than a 100 CCDs (conservative estimate). Yesterday when a colleague told me that there are three Starbucks outlets in a single avenue in New York, I could retort saying there are three CCDs on Brigade Road, and all are always full.
While it is easy to observe that the coffee shop culture is here to stay, the positioning of these brands would be interesting to study. On the one hand, you have 20-somethings who refuse to go to CCDs saying they infested with teenagers. On the other, you have Thathas and Ajjis who walk down to the nearest CCD for their evening cuppa. My dad has a number of official meetings at a CCD. And I can?t count the number of times I?ve gone to a CCD for coffee with my dad (mom refuses to come since she can?t stand the smell of coffee).
Delhi girl Neha tells me that it is un-cool to be seen in a Coffee Day in Delhi University while Barista is ok. A number of north Indian friends echo that sentiment. The Bangalorean me would any day prefer the Tropical Iceberg to Brrrista. Barista doesn?t sell coffee – it sells desserts. Most of my south Indian friends second that. Maybe it has to do with our expectations of coffee. For us coffee is culture. It is the aroma. The taste it leaves in our mouths. As we slowly sip it with a slurping noise. For them it is an excuse to hang out. An excuse to be seen in a certain place. A different culture.
One of the things I carried when I moved to Bombay 3 months ago was a coffee filter. And 250 grams of Kalmane (they make really good coffee, better than CCD) Bluegrass coffee powder. I put some powder and water in the filter when I started writing this. It should?ve percolated by now. Let me go and enjoy it.
Meanwhile, you take a look at this pic. CCD and Barista in the same compound! It happens only in Mumbai! Credits to Anuroop for clicking the photo, and to me for identifying this photo op.