CON­SUMER EX­PE­RI­ENCE

Cof­fee Shops

Consumer Voice - - Contents - Sanjana Pegu

The Things We Love [Much and Not Much] about Them

SLet’s get this fact straight – I am a tea drinker. In­evitable when you grow up in a state renowned for its tea ex­ports and where tea is as ubiq­ui­tous as dust and an am­nesic govern­ment. I used to hate my veg­eta­bles (I love them now), love my af­ter­noon cup of tea (I love them even more now), and was obliv­i­ous to cof­fee, which to me was a strange phe­nom­e­non (some­thing like forty de­greesplus sum­mers and Honey Singh songs). At times, though, you find the strange to be com­fort­able. Es­pe­cially when it comes in the garb of a per­fectly made latte and an ex­tra large couch. So, from the days of aus­ter­ity at the lo­cal CCD to crav­ing that early morn­ing cup of caf­feine at your of­fice’s nearby Costa, my jour­ney has been sim­i­lar to that of ev­ery tea lover who turned their del­i­cate nose up at the sight of this fi­rang drink only to end up be­ing a fan, even­tu­ally.

ince I have tra­versed through enough cof­fee shops in my life­time, I sup­pose I am ad­e­quately qual­i­fied to of­fer my opin­ions on some of them. Not that most of us re­quire any qual­i­fi­ca­tion to have an opin­ion. It so hap­pens that I also have an opin­ion on the Ukraine cri­sis but un­for­tu­nately the pow­ers that be have cho­sen to ig­nore it—which can be quite per­plex­ing.

Costa, SDA mar­ket, Delhi

Dis­claimer first: I might be slightly bi­ased to­wards Costa, hav­ing had their cof­fee ev­ery (well, al­most ev­ery) week­day dur­ing my first four years as one of those strange people who vol­un­tar­ily choose to sit be­hind a desk. I like their latte, which is my favourite cof­fee drink. [I be­lieve the way to rec­og­nize a good

cof­fee shop is sim­ply to ask for one of the stan­dard cap­puc­ci­nos or lat­tes be­fore pro­ceed­ing on to the fancier African Sa­fari or the Moroc­can-grown, Nicaraguan-bred, Chilean-brewed vari­ant. You can’t do the sim­ple things right, you prob­a­bly stink at the com­plex ones too. But I di­gress.]

So, Costa usu­ally gets the sim­ple things right. And does fairly okay at the less sim­ple ones. The good thing about them is that the taste of their sand­wiches and dessert of­fer­ings usu­ally re­mains the same through­out their out­lets. So while they score on con­sis­tency, it does rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of you get­ting hold of that one mag­i­cal Tan­doori chicken sand­wich that will com­pel Ka­reem’s line-up to take notes. Their in­te­ri­ors and dé­cor is noth­ing much to write about, which per­haps is some­thing they may want to look at, see­ing how Star­bucks has done a great job at it. Stiff so­fas and stiffer chairs – some cushy couches needed, please.

I have of­ten vis­ited the SDA mar­ket out­let. It helps that they reg­u­larly come up with the cof­fee shop ver­sion of happy hours. For in­stance, once a friend, who doesn’t even like cof­fee, dragged me to the place at 10 pm in the night just so he could have cof­fee and food at half the price [the of­fer was ap­pli­ca­ble only post-10 pm]. It al­ways amazes me

Costa usu­ally gets the sim­ple things right. And does fairly okay at the less sim­ple ones. The good thing about them is that the taste of their sand­wiches and dessert of­fer­ings usu­ally re­mains the same through­out their out­lets. So while they score on con­sis­tency, it does rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of you get­ting hold of that one mag­i­cal Tan­doori chicken sand­wich that will com­pel Ka­reem’s line-up to take notes.

how people will buy any­thing if you just dan­gle the dis­count bait, even if they don’t par­tic­u­larly care about that some­thing.

So this one time we went, we du­ti­fully made a note of the drab in­te­ri­ors. While out­side seat­ing was avail­able, we chose the less thrilling op­tion of sit­ting in­side, which felt a bit cramped. But then real es­tate is at a pre­mium in South Delhi. The staff was in that in-be­tween zone of ‘not re­ally friendly’ to ‘nearly un­friendly’ and so you re­sponded ac­cord­ingly. We had to re­mind them a cou­ple of times to get an­other chair for us, so maybe they just didn’t like our faces. You have to or­der by yourself here and most of the menu op­tions were avail­able – an­other good thing about Costa. Sur­pris­ingly the food came first, which can mean that ei­ther they are no­to­ri­ously slow at mak­ing cof­fee or they are con­sci­en­tious while do­ing so. The tof­fee cake was cold but quite de­li­cious; they have a pretty good dessert collection. The hunger wrap was a bit meh. My friend found it a bit stale but fin­ished it nev­er­the­less; even his dis­ap­proval comes with healthy re­spect for food. The latte and cap­puc­cino were stan­dard stuff, which means they were good. Not a big fan of the tall glass that they used for the latte, though. I pre­fer mine in the fat un­cle mug ver­sion – I am sort of old fash­ioned that way.

The bill came up to be a lit­tle over Rs 500, which is re­spectable since Costa is one of the more ex­pen­sive shops out there. We did get the cake for free, as they had an of­fer of a dessert free with ev­ery hunger wrap. We weren’t com­plain­ing, of course. Since it’s SDA mar­ket, the crowd is gen­er­ally a mix of the lo­cal IIT boys and the South Delhi hang­ers-on, which means you won’t find too many lech­er­ous-type men. But don’t ex­pect any­thing fancier – ba­si­cally, the crowd will be made up of people like you and me, which is ac­cept­able.

Café Cof­fee Day, Carter Road, Mum­bai

CCD re­minds me of my col­lege days when it used to be a once-in-a-month so­journ for us stu­dents who had very lit­tle to spend. It was not even that we

par­tic­u­larly like the food or the cof­fee; we just went there to check out the crowd as we had plenty of time to while away then. At that time, CCD was the queen bee of cof­fee shops, with Barista its only real com­peti­tor. So, one must con­grat­u­late CCD on still be­ing a player in this mar­ket and try­ing to rein­vent it­self (not very suc­cess­fully, though), while Barista has sort of faded away like a medi­ocre dream.

Ubiq­uity has to be CCD’s dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing fac­tor. Its cof­fee is the clos­est equiv­a­lent to the road­side tea stall. Love them or loathe them, you will al­ways find them. And therein lies its prob­lem – when you have out­lets all over the place, how do you main­tain some sem­blance of con­sis­tency in taste, ser­vice? Even if you only con­sider CCD Lounge, which is the up­mar­ket (and hence more ex­pen­sive) ver­sion, there is so much vari­ance among the out­lets that hon­estly you don’t, and can’t, know what to ex­pect. Even within the same out­let, the cof­fee tends to be moody in taste – it has good days and some shock­ingly bad ones. In such a case, I gen­er­ally adopt the ap­proach of thou shalt go for what thou knows, and with CCD I just don’t know.

Ubiq­uity has to be CCD’s dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing fac­tor. Its cof­fee is the clos­est equiv­a­lent to the road­side tea stall. Love them or loathe them, you will al­ways find them. And therein lies its prob­lem – when you have out­lets all over the place, how do you main­tain some sem­blance of con­sis­tency in taste, ser­vice? Even within the same out­let, the cof­fee tends to be moody in taste – it has good days and some shock­ingly bad ones.

An­other prickly thing about them is that they al­most never have half the things that are listed in the menu. Look­ing for that Kiwi Le­mon­ade? Tough luck, mate. Can I get that Iced Sparkle? Why don’t you try the Eskimo drink, sir? And these are not one-off ex­pe­ri­ences – with CCD I am al­ways re­signed to the fact that what I want prob­a­bly won’t be avail­able due to some mys­te­ri­ous rea­son (ter­ror­ist at­tacks, leprechauns, cancer re­search? You de­cide). Staff is in­dif­fer­ent at best and piti­ful at worst. Aside from be­ing om­nipresent, the only thing that’s go­ing for CCD is their rel­a­tively low prices, in the nonLounge ver­sion.

We landed up at the Carter Road out­let one fine hu­mid evening. Now, Carter Road, for the unini­ti­ated, is where ev­ery­one in Mum­bai lands up on week­ends. And if you are not found there, it’s be­cause you (like me) don’t pre­fer crowds. I must ad­mit that part of it is quite charm­ing, es­pe­cially when the sea breeze de­cides to breeze in. There are plenty of eat­ing joints to tempt even the staunch­est ve­gan fa­natic. How­ever, save for a few, these joints un­dergo a re­cy­cling process ev­ery other month. Carter Road is a tough cookie, much like the ones you would find in a CCD.

The out­let is prob­a­bly the most cov­eted spot in Carter Road and it can be quite pleas­ant to sit out­side, look­ing at the crowd milling about, en­joy­ing the musty smell of the sea (best not to look at it, it’s not ex­actly a sight for sore eyes), en­joy­ing your cof­fee. How­ever, the CCD folks have man­aged to ruin that ex­pe­ri­ence marginally, by in­sist­ing on play­ing songs that be­long to a tacky night club in the early 2000s [think Taio Cruz]. Now I like my share of groovy mu­sic with hor­ri­ble lyrics, but not when I want to merely re­lax and chat with my friend.

We or­dered a latte (what else) for me, Iced Sparkle for him, and a tomato and mush­room br­uschetta for both of us. The Iced Sparkle was ze­roed down on af­ter mul­ti­ple failed at­tempts at or­der­ing a le­mon­ade and iced tea. The drinks ar­rived promptly enough. ‘Reg­u­lar’ latte here would prob­a­bly be akin to a ‘small’ at other places but then the price is com­par­a­tively less, so no com­plaints there. The drinks were de­cent enough but the br­uschetta was a dis­ap­point­ment. I don’t think the mak­ers were aware of the con­cept of a br­uschetta. I am no mas­ter chef but I know it def­i­nitely doesn’t in­volve burn­ing a piece of bread and heap­ing cheese, mush­room and tomato on it hap­haz­ardly. Would have been safer to opt for a reg­u­lar sand­wich – even when it’s bad, it’s at least fill­ing. The to­tal cost came up to be a healthy 460 bucks. Not sure we got our bang for the bucks. But to ex­pect any­thing more would have been wish­ful think­ing.

Star­bucks, Con­naught Place, Delhi

First, let me get me this out of my sys­tem – why on earth was there such brouhaha over the en­try of Star­bucks in In­dia? It’s a cof­fee chain, not the rein­car­na­tion of Gandhi or Sachin com­ing out of re­tire­ment. For months, my Face­book news­feed was flooded with people ea­gerly check­ing in at a Star­bucks, be­cause, of course, that’s what one should al­ways as­pire for.

Hav­ing tried Star­bucks a cou­ple of times, my gen­eral im­pres­sion of them is good cof­fee, pass­able food, too many people. Since I can get the first two at other cof­fee places with­out the added bur­den of tol­er­at­ing a huge crowd, I usu­ally opt to not do the Star­bucks ex­pe­ri­ence. Per­haps when people re­al­ize that it’s just an­other cof­fee shop, maybe I can truly en­joy that ex­pe­ri­ence.

This time I de­cided to go it alone at the CP ver­sion and it turned out to be a good de­ci­sion since the place was too noisy to have a mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tion with any­one, ex­cept per­haps your own self. It’s self­ser­vice here, which means you get to deal with the rude waiter at the counter. On hind­sight, I can’t blame him since the num­ber of people on that busy Sun­day af­ter­noon was quite overwhelming. All seats were taken, in­clud­ing the com­mu­nity-style ta­ble that I quite liked, and one could en­joy the mildly funny sight of people car­ry­ing around their trays look­ing for that one empty ta­ble and in the process an­noy­ing people who oc­cu­pied those non-empty ta­bles.

All seats were taken, in­clud­ing the com­mu­ni­tystyle ta­ble, and one could en­joy the mildly funny sight of people car­ry­ing around their trays look­ing for that one empty ta­ble and in the process an­noy­ing people who oc­cu­pied those non-empty ta­bles.

I or­dered my sta­ple reg­u­lar latte and a chicken sand­wich. It came up to around 400 bucks, which wasn’t too bad con­sid­er­ing that they could raise the price by half and people would still hap­pily clam­our to en­ter the hal­lowed space. I was re­signed to stand­ing around like a job­less delin­quent—like half of my brethren there. It must have been my lucky day, though, since the mo­ment I traipsed up­stairs, a ta­ble was im­me­di­ately va­cated and my am­a­teur dancer’s re­flexes helped in beat­ing two other par­ties to the cov­eted seat. I could not help but crow at my achieve­ment.

The latte was much ap­pre­ci­ated and the sand­wich was what one had come to ex­pect from most cof­fee shops – don’t ex­pect much and you will be rea­son­ably sat­is­fied. So, in terms of the ac­tual con­tent, I was rea­son­ably sat­is­fied. Tried read­ing the book that I had got along as my faith­ful com­pan­ion but the ca­coph­ony around didn’t al­low me to pro­ceed be­yond a few pages. The crowd was made up of a mot­ley bunch of people. Col­lege stu­dents mak­ing that Metro trip from North Cam­pus, cu­ri­ous denizens from the less glam­orous lo­ca­tions of Delhi, fi­rangs who were ex­pect­ing a reg­u­lar, quiet Star­bucks only to be left be­wil­dered, and an un­der­cover re­viewer.

I did ap­pre­ci­ate the in­te­ri­ors. Be­tween Tata and Star­bucks, I sup­pose money wouldn’t have been an is­sue and so it was ad­e­quately splashed on to a world map on the walls and a de­cent at­tempt at cre­at­ing an an­cient, oth­er­worldly charm. I guess I would have liked it much more had I been able to read in peace and had Star­bucks been just an­other cof­fee shop.

Café Qahwa, SDA mar­ket, Delhi

I de­cided to cover Qahwa al­most as an af­ter­thought. It’s a stand­alone cof­fee place in SDA mar­ket but stand­alone places de­serve their fair share of re­views too, so that’s what I am go­ing to do. Now the place is op­po­site Costa (al­ready re­viewed here) and am­bi­ence-wise it’s much more homely and wel­com­ing. Com­fort­able couches and a gen­er­ally warm vibe give one a fuzzy, nice feel­ing in­side. You can lounge about point­lessly and some­how you know it’s okay to do that here.

Talk­ing about the menu, it’s pretty ex­ten­sive and needs about five min­utes of ded­i­cated time to go through be­fore you fi­nally know what you want to ex­per­i­ment on. I have been here a few times and while the por­tions are not too large, the food is de­cent by a reg­u­lar café stan­dard – it whets your ap­petite for a few hours and is not overly ex­pen­sive. You get pasta, salad, sand­wiches, but my favourite is the all­day break­fast that comes in handy on those dreaded morn­ings. On the flip side, the drinks are pretty poor in taste un­less you stick to the reg­u­lar cof­fee drinks. Best not to take risks while or­der­ing, you might just re­gret it.

This time we or­dered for a chai latte and crispy potato cheese bites. The chai latte was un­usual

Am­bi­ence-wise it’s homely and wel­com­ing. Com­fort­able couches and a gen­er­ally warm vibe give one a fuzzy, nice feel­ing in­side. You can lounge about point­lessly and some­how you know it’s okay to do that here. The menu is pretty ex­ten­sive and needs about five min­utes of ded­i­cated time to go through be­fore you fi­nally know what you want to ex­per­i­ment on.

in taste, which is a po­lite way of say­ing that I did not like it. The food, though, was a hit with us, es­pe­cially the dip, which was a strange peanut curd amal­ga­ma­tion but thank­fully worked. The wait­ers seemed dis­in­ter­ested and went through the mo­tions, in­clud­ing the mo­tion of ask­ing us for some change. Two cheers for the mu­sic there – Dave Mathews has al­ways been a favourite and it’s al­ways pleas­antly sur­pris­ing to hear good mu­sic be­ing played at these places.

Try out this place if a heart­felt tête-a-tête is your main ob­jec­tive and the cof­fee an af­ter­thought.

The Cof­fee Bean & Tea Leaf, Se­lect Ci­tywalk, Delhi

Pos­si­bly my favourite cof­fee shop among them all. I like ev­ery­thing about it – well, maybe not the price so much. Ev­ery time I land at the in­ter­na­tional ter­mi­nal of Delhi Air­port, I make it a point to sit at

one of those awe­some so­fas, sip cof­fee and watch the planes trudge by. It’s quite an ex­pe­ri­ence even if your flight is in the wee hours of the morn­ing and you barely got any sleep that night. Ex­cel­lent cof­fee, good food, friendly staff and a nice, warm am­bi­ence make it a cut above the rest. Pity then, that there are only so many out­lets to savour.

I was quite heart­bro­ken when Star­bucks usurped my beloved CBTL from many of its prized spots in Delhi, in­clud­ing the ground floor at Ci­tywalk and GK 1 M Block mar­ket. These were my top haunts when­ever I felt like opt­ing for cof­fee over some­thing more po­tent. As a mark of re­spect, I have de­cided to ex­punge my ghostly pres­ence from those places un­less some­body forces me not to.

For the pur­pose of this re­view, I landed up at the Ci­tywalk out­let. While I usu­ally try and avoid malls, they do have the ad­van­tages of bundling some of your favourite shops into one noisy whole. CBTL, forced to evac­u­ate its cov­eted ground floor spot, has moved one floor above (Barista be­ing the ca­su­alty there). It’s not the most ideal lo­ca­tion since the noise tends to hover in the un­favourable deci­bel range and wafts in freely through the win­dow­less shop. It’s also quite cramped ow­ing to the paucity of space, un­less you can grab one of those nice couches where the din is marginally less and you can ac­tu­ally at­tempt to read.

No self-ser­vice here, so the lazy ones can ac­tu­ally con­cen­trate on their task of be­ing lazy. The latte took about 10 min­utes to ar­rive, which I thought was out of char­ac­ter for a nor­mal CBTL out­let. Food came at the same time. Their quan­ti­ties are al­ways large, so you don’t have to or­der more than one dish or cof­fee. Pre­sen­ta­tion-wise, one might mis­take it for an air­line food tray but we will ig­nore that trav­esty for now.

Since it was a Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, it was less crowded and I man­aged to make my­self com­fort­able. People were of the usual mall va­ri­ety but the high prices and the rel­a­tively less brand per­cep­tion than, say, of a Star­bucks meant that not all of the mall rats ended up here – which is more than ac­cept­able to me. I or­dered latte and a mush­room omelette, which has be­come the de facto stan­dard for me at any CBTL. No self-ser­vice here, so the lazy ones can ac­tu­ally con­cen­trate on their task of be­ing lazy. The latte took about 10 min­utes to ar­rive, which I thought was out of char­ac­ter for a nor­mal CBTL out­let. They usu­ally make it slightly strong here – not my pre­ferred ver­sion but they are al­ways will­ing to di­lute it if asked.

Food came at the same time. Omelettes here come ac­com­pa­nied with four slices of bread, but­ter, jam and some salad, which I highly ap­prove of as it’s quite fill­ing and tastes good. Pre­sen­ta­tion-wise, one might mis­take it for an air­line food tray but we will ig­nore that trav­esty for now. Their quan­ti­ties are al­ways large, so you don’t have to or­der more than one dish or cof­fee. I have tried their pasta and desserts, which are pretty good. My lit­tle niece, Rayna, thor­oughly en­joys their muffins, which are big enough to make two people happy. A spe­cial shout-out to those gor­geous cup­cakes – a re­cent ad­di­tion to their menu which had me drool­ing the first time I had it. They are so good that I ac­tu­ally went to one of their out­lets solely to buy them – this on a hot Mum­bai af­ter­noon when the more wise people were neatly curled up in their AC rooms.

So, yes, I am a fan and most likely will con­tinue be­ing so.

Glo­ria Jeans, Ban­dra West, Mum­bai

I am not a reg­u­lar at Glo­ria Jeans be­cause the cof­fee seems a lit­tle bland to me. But their Ban­dra out­let is al­ways filled with some in­ter­est­ing-look­ing people, so I de­cided to give it a try. Per­haps I was mis­taken in my as­sess­ment – af­ter all, the rule is that if a lot of cool people mill around a place, then it must be good.

The in­te­ri­ors were noth­ing to write home about, which is ex­actly why I am not writ­ing about it. The lo­ca­tion is great, though, so you can sit in the out­side area and watch the Ban­dra crowd pass by. I or­dered a Cap­puc­cino and a chicken sand­wich re­al­iz­ing that be­ing ad­ven­tur­ous here is prob­a­bly not a good idea. Both came on time and while the cof­fee was fine, the sand­wich seemed re­ally stale, which man­aged to kill my ap­petite for the next few hours. The prices are com­pa­ra­ble to a CCD, so this might be the place for you if you don’t like shelling out the bucks. Un­for­tu­nately, since I went on a week­day af­ter­noon, the cool people weren’t avail­able and suf­fice to say, my mind felt as bland as the cof­fee. Try this place out if you want to do slightly bet­ter than a CCD.

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