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Emerging prototypes of Indian coffee drinkers

Primarily a tea-drinking nation, India is slowly but steadily embracing coffee — making cafés a meeting place for tradition and modernity, and leading to a new breed of coffee consumers. HT reports.

business Updated: Feb 25, 2012 22:41 IST
Hindustan Times

The Kitty Party Ladies

They are women in all shapes and sizes, bumbling in post lunch, in tittering groups of 10-15. Mostly, they’ll troop in for a mocha or hot chocolate when they can combine retail therapy with a meal. Experts say safety is paramount for this category so location is critical: a shopping centre or high-street channel. They usually stop by for a longish stint — lunch or high-tea and are generally not seen in the CCDs but in the Costas/Big Chills. “Coffee is a lifestyle, tea is a beverage. If the boss comes home, you’ll serve him coffee, but if a neighbour drops by, you’ll give him tea,” says Harish Bijoor.

The Corporate kind

“The café culture in India is an exploding lifestyle for the young, upwardly mobile middle-class,” says Anil Bhandari of India Coffee Board. Easily spotted with their spiky gelled hair, formal/semi-formal attire and a cappuccino by the side, they typically hold business meetings with clients or work on their laptops. “The entrepreneur, who may not have a large office, uses the coffee shop as a meeting place given the certain quality of ambience,” says Costa’s Santhosh Unni. He/she frequents a café more than a casual customer for whom coffee is an ‘impulse’ category, say experts. This lot includes insurance and sales people making client pitches, office-goers taking a break, interviewers quizzing potential candidates and, in rare cases, those networking with other customers in the café. The corporate segment is key for a brand like Costa that targets the age group of 21-28.


Move over parks, cafes are the new couple haven. Experts say food and beverages are incidental to this category — they choose cafés for the space and privacy. Even matrimonial meets have trickled in here as cafés turn into lounges. “The key difference in India is that they take espresso with milk, and spend time with their coffee. In Italy, you enter, have an espresso shot and leave,” says Lavazza’s Attilio Capuano. “In India, people like small sizes unlike in the west,” says Mohammad Feroz of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.


These are the offline get-togethers — hobby groups, informal clubs/associations, bloggers, Tweet-ups etc — where members opt for cafés as the preferred hangout. Meeting schedules are made on social networking sites. Brands such as Costa are looking to cash in on this trend by designing activities such as performances, book-reading sessions, exhibitions, blog sessions, debates etc. These groups typically order more finger-food and a mix of hot/cold coffees. Also, in India, it’s more about food than beverage so most cafés prefer to localise tastes.

The Anna Wintour Latte

These fashion-conscious/socialites appreciate coffee and are particular about having it sans milk or sugar. Knowledgeable and westernised, the well-heeled have the relevant exposure and know their espresso from their filter. Incidentally, espresso is the least drunk version in India. “Of the total consumption, 57% is instant coffee while 43% is roast and ground (filter). Instant coffee consumption in non-south is growing,” says Bhandari. Some sections of the elite have even started installing espresso machines at home.

Coffee Snobs

The coffee snobs may ‘pish’ at the widely available variants. Mostly educated abroad, they get their gourmet coffees from other sources. In Delhi, Devan’s Coffee and Tea has been around for the last 50 years where the owner blends and roasts 10-12 varieties. Known by word of mouth, stores like these boast of a loyal clientele. “Coffee becomes a part of culture when it turns into a habit,” says Bhandari. Typically spotted with an espresso, macchiato or risotto, these snobs, clearly, are the
keepers of the high coffee culture.

‘Ek Chai Latte Lana’

Reading their HTs and Hindus, meeting old friends for a chinwag or just stopping by after a walk, the older generation that used to earlier perhaps meet at an udipi, now walks in for their mid-morning or evening break to a coffee cafe.
Sometimes a grandchild may accompany them for an odd treat or a math lesson. The elderly prefer a robust cup of masala tea or chai latte over coffee, says Unni, since “they don’t belong to the new coffee generation and don’t need to be snooty about their choice of

The Intellectual/Arty Ones

Generally found in off-beat cafes such as those in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village and book cafes like Café Turtle. These include
writers, poets, journalists, artists, filmmakers etc... mostly seen smoking on the café’s balcony/terrace, discussing philosophy or art over a cup of cappuccino going cold. The category also includes the kurta-pajama-jhola type who prefer the simple and nostalgic hangouts such as Indian Coffee House in Delhi’s Connaught Place, Koshi’s in Bangalore etc say experts.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

“Fifteen years ago, a 20-something didn’t have a safe place to hang out in other than a pub. Today, the ones driving this café culture are the urban people aged between 16 and 40: university crowd, young professionals and entrepreneurs. Trendy in their lifestyle, education, travel and fashion, it’s the generation that’s driving the white goods market and Indian tourism outside of the country,” says Bhandari. An iPod, chewing gum, braces, colourful slippers and choice of an unusual flavour of beverage or coffee-dessert will mark out the teenage prototype. It’s the largest target group for most cafés. “Close to 25% of CCD’s clients are less than 25 years,” says Ramki. It’s an important segment for café brands given it’s the group’s first transition to a coffee shop, which in the next ten years is set to become fairly large when they start working.

The Expat

Backpack on an empty chair, a book in hand, either reading or observing people while sipping an espresso or macchiato in a quiet corner. Whether it’s a tourist or a sophisticated business traveller to India, he/she will
generally seek out international café brands for their caffeine fix. A sense of comfort with certain processes and hygiene being in place drive this choice say experts. “Expats who are already settled in metros and/or are familiar with the city will venture to try home-grown book cafes such as Café Turtle,” says Unni. Keshav Devan of Devan’s Coffee and Tea adds that coffee is more of a winter beverage in India unlike in the west where people consume coffee 365 days a year, every morning. “The look and feel of our stores (Costa) is more vibrant than in Europe since India is a warmer country,” explains Unni.

First Published: Feb 25, 2012 22:20 IST