What do India, the United States, and Australia have in common? Apart from mostly successfully throwing off the British yoke, these are also the places Delhi-born Radhikka Kapur studied, worked and took her influences from when she launched her own coffee brand, Third Culture in Seattle in 2017. And by November end, she will bring it to India.
“Around Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign when the voices for divisiveness grew louder, I wanted to make my voice heard. As someone born and raised in Delhi, who had studied and worked in Australia, and was a dual Australian-Indian citizen, but not part of the American electoral process, I was trying to find a way to represent people of disparate cultures,” says Kapur, who was part of the launch team of Microsoft Surface, and worked with the tech behemoth for over five years.
As in the best bildungsroman, that way was there all along. “Seattle has a huge coffee culture and, while pregnant with my second child, I made it my mission to explore every coffee house in the city. I still have the spread sheets of all the places I visited, and my notes on the same. That’s how the idea of starting my coffee brand slowly percolated,” elaborates Kapur.
When she opened the first store in Seattle, the idea was to engage with the local community.
“So, we bought flowers and others supplies from neighbouring vendors. That’s when it was made ever more apparent the challenges I’d face as a brown woman owning a coffee shop without industry background in a market dominated by white guys in plaid shirts,” recalls Kapur, harking back to the time when one of those neighbouring business owners came into the store and said, “you guys are Third World Coffee right?”
But for every negative story, there were 10 positive ones of clients and business partners who appreciated the product and Kapur’s passion for representing plurality, acceptance, and togetherness through that most communal of beverages, coffee; a drink that helped inspire everything from to the Renaissance to modern banking.
“We didn’t go the usual Chai-Tea and Turmeric Latte route of so many other chains and retained the originality and flavours of the drink or food, wherever they were from. We still call our Haldi Doodh just that, and that was a big risk for a new entrant into Seattle’s hyper-competitive coffee market,” admits Kapur, while noting she’s never had cause to regret it.
Having moved back to India at the end of last year, while still operating (either directly or through franchise) three stores in Seattle, Kapur, now based in Gurugram, is looking at a new model for home.
“I realised, while setting up the first store, I got so side-tracked by the nitty-gritties of setting up a store, I didn’t get to enjoy why I started the brand in the first place, to provide carefully crafted beverages as they are experienced across different cultures around the world with the best of local and organic ingredients.”
That’s why, in its India model, Third Culture is currently concentrating on bottled versions of their product with a resolve to provide delicious beverages that are high on quality, health.
“We’ll launch digitally on November 29 through online retail stores and we are also in talks with brick and mortar outlets that can guarantee proper storage of our products, which have a limited shelf life, as these are sans chemical preservatives and supplements…This is just the beginning,” finishes Kapur.