An American coffee seller setting up shop in Chennai, the home turf of original filter kaapi, should be nothing but a joke or a bad business proposition. Yes, they do not carry coals to Newcastle, conventional wisdom dictates. But the crowds that have been thronging the first outlet of Starbucks in the southern metropolis on the initial two days only suggest that even Eskimos can be made to buy ice in a globalised era. For those who lined up for their turn to have a taste of the exotic brew did not mind coughing up a minimum of `100 for a cup, bearing the picture of a redesigned Statue of Liberty, when they could have had steaming coffee in a “dhabra and tumbler” at half the price at any of the decent nearby restaurants.
That Starbucks waited for two years, when it went to various cities, before setting foot in Chennai with its landmark 50th outlet in India perhaps indicates an earlier apprehension in finding takers for its brand of cuppa where coffee is blended not just with chicory but also the local culinary ethos. Generation after generation of south Indians have been imbibing the brew as the first thing every morning, only to carry on through the day with more cups at home, office and everywhere. So what can an American chain offer that makes its coffee attractive?
“A lot can happen over coffee” was Cafe Coffee Day’s catchline to lure people across India to its chain of restaurants, the first of which was launched in 1996. Others followed. Australia’s Gloria Jean’s, Barista, Costa Coffee, the list goes on. What these outlets did was to elevate the traditional habit of coffee drinking to an international culture. It was not just the aroma and taste that mattered in a cuppa. The ambience of the place became important. Besides, the possible things that one can do while imbibing the invigorating brew, too, expanded with coffee shops turning into rendezvous of different hues. To put it otherwise, Indian cities have risen to global standards.