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Coffee shops or hang-out joints?

October 19, 2007
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I don’t much like the coffee they serve up in CCD (Café Coffee Day) or Barista. And I am not too upset that earlier this year Starbucks made a decision not to enter India. That’s because I go to a coffee-shop to drink good coffee, not hang out, being past my college days. I am neither a fan of black coffee, nor of the light frothy lukewarm stuff they call ‘Latte’. I thought I probably had no idea what good coffee was (I am basically a tea-drinker) until I saw this post of Arun’s. He is a coffee drinker and he doesn’t think they serve up good coffee, no not even at Starbucks.

I have often asked them at CCD to heat up my coffee and after reading Arun’s post I realised why. This is what he says:

Anyway, I don’t get the point of this foam business. It is fluff and only for look. To generate more of it, Starbucks etc. use cold milk – which of course brings the temperature of the coffee down…the foam takes up most of the cup, and so end up with mostly looks and little substance.

No wonder these coffee shops serve lukewarm coffee – they use cold milk! And as for their cold coffees…spare me! In CCD they mostly serve ice-cream blended cold coffees and customers have to hunt for a ‘normal’ cold coffee on the menu. Even then, there is no option but to have sugar plus cold coffees! Once I asked a sales girl whether she blended ice-cream with coffee when she made the stuff at home. She said yes!! What a lie.

Not all coffee shops are this bad ofcourse. Brio is slightly better…though there aren’t too many of these outlets. I hear that Hyderabad as a lot of coffee shops (they aren’t chains) but here in Mumbai and Pune there seems to be nothing except CCD and Barista!

But even though people like me might turn up their noses at these fancy coffee shops, the reality is that they are doing good business in India…and their old avatars are faltering…if not dying. I am talking of the Udupis. Is there a comparison, between the Baristas, the CCDs and the Udipis?

In my eyes there is. An Udipi restaurant always served up some decent coffee, and many still do. Good hot steaming coffee, extra strong. And these were the places where we hung out when we were in college…Vaishali was one such place, being bang opposite Fergusson college. Vaish we called it (no it didn’t look like it looks in the picture, there was an open space in front) and there was also Café Delite and Marz-o-rin (not an Udipi) in the ‘Camp’ area…and another favorite hang-out joint was the old West End café. Vaishali is not a hang-out joint anymore and nor is Marz-o-rin…it’s difficult to imagine that they ever were. But these were places where we could sit for a long time without being disturbed, just sipping coffee. Wonderful coffee. One cup of coffee costed Rs 5/-! Ofcourse prices have increased four-fold but that’s not the point…the point is that the ambiance is gone.

Today these places are nothing more than commercialised eateries. The menu is a mile long. Café Delite doesn’t exist anymore and West End has been replaced by a a multiplex, and ofcourse, the old world atmosphere has vanished. And the young? They don’t want to sit and eat or have coffee in such places…as there will always be someone looking over their shoulder, telling them to hurry up.

About coffee shops in Hyderabad, Karan has a nice set of reviews. One of his reviews says:

The place has got everything going for it..the ambience, the food, the coffee.. the crowd😛 (got some amazing chicks😉 ) , the location.. its just the price which is slightly on the higher side. Pah! Who cares.. once the place is such a treat!

That should explain what the youth are looking for…although coffee is mentioned, that’s in passing. The Udipis missed the writing on the wall… they are infact dying out. And that’s because today Udipi joints have been reduced to eateries…no not just eateries…but plain no-frills type eateries. Udipis are also similar to each other…you go to one and you’ve been to all. Their very pluses – good, clean inexpensive food – have become their nemesis. There are long queues, of the family kind.

You might say so what, they have their own clientale…sure they do, but these places are not making money like they used to…and that’s not surprising. Udipis want to keep their prices down and their standards up (quality of food and hygiene). As a result they have turned into clones of each other, just crowded food factories, with no café persona at all…no music, and a complete lack of attention to decor or comfort.

What’s needed is a hybrid version of an Udipi and a CCD. Good inexpensive food, decent coffee and a good ambiance…until such places come up I think I’ll stick to tea. Thank goodness they serve tea at Cafe Coffee Day.

(All photographs have been taken by me)

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34 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2007 8:24 am

    All coffee shops are over-rated. It’s the in-thing these days: turn the lights down, play loud rap music, pass around a child-friendly tobacco-free hookah (WTF?), market the joint as ‘hip’ and you have the license to sell coffee at a nice little markup. I have seen cold coffees that cost around Rs. 300/- – I have never tasted a 300-rupee cup of coffee but I’m guessing the point of diminishing returns starts somewhere around 60/-

    I bet Vincent Vega would ask, “Five-dollar milkshake? You don’t put bourbon in it or anything?”

    Having said that, I spent 90% of my college years at the CCD-branch that was barely a quarter-mile from my campus. Since the staff became like extended family, we got tons of free stuff, were always under-billed and they were enough to let us hang out there for hours without actually ordering anything😉

    When I want caffeine raging through my veins, I brew my own or guzzle a liter of aerated soft drinks. Or I get good old four-rupee chai in the friendly neighborhood cafe. Coffee shops are just a place to sit down in air-conditioning and leer at underaged teeny-boppers that don’t know the difference between dressing up for a coffee shop and a nightclub .

    Oh wait, I didn’t say that last sentence out loud, did I?😉

  2. timethief permalink
    October 19, 2007 10:02 am

    I’m absolutely appalled to see the North Americanization that these “coffeeshops” that your photographs depict. At this rate there will be no authentic culture, leisure and architecture in the world. We will all live in communities that look like corporate clones. How sad.😦

  3. October 19, 2007 10:15 am

    @ Nita:

    “.. no not even at Starbucks.”

    Starbucks _everywhere_ sells crap coffee. They are not in the coffee business. They are in lifestyle retailing.

    Their second function is to have replaced McDonald’s as the US’s second unofficial outpost abroad. Several American friends have told me that McD was where they sought to go to the loo, wherever they were in the world; but now increasingly they go to the loo in Starbucks.

    @ Noumankhan:

    Vincent Vega would never ask that question.

    You see he has been to Europe. He _knows_ coffee at Starbucks/ Cafe Nero/ Coffee Republic etc costs $5 (in US money terms).🙂

  4. October 19, 2007 12:12 pm

    Hey, thanks for the ping back, But it’ll be nice if you could change the name from Karanjit to Karan as thats what I am called🙂
    BTW, an interesting post. Have no doubts on the fact that youngsters visit these places just to hang out, and not for the coffee.

    That’s done.🙂 – Nita.

  5. October 19, 2007 4:43 pm

    the best and most wierd coffee i have tasted comes fresh in a plastic cup costs 7.5 rs at lamington roads coffee board shop which grinds coorgi beans daily and is served by a mallu guy – that place is genuinly antique and things havent changed for god knows how long
    its a fav place for my mum who is a coffee drinker
    lots of people pick their coffee stock from there or from matunga one more coffee heaven!

    coffee day is for hangin out and wierd coffees , they seldom have the black or the normal coffee

    didnt bother with barista my friend has a name for it which means its too expensive

  6. October 19, 2007 4:44 pm

    ill post a pic someday maybe just go out and have one now!

  7. madhurisinha permalink
    October 19, 2007 6:00 pm

    I am just happy with the one cup of tea every morning.
    During college years, our college canteen used to serve the best filter coffee.
    Somehow my friends and I never really hung out at coffee shops or eateries.
    It would usually be in class rooms after classes or at each other’s homes.
    Maybe thats why I dont really like to ‘hang out’ in coffee shops. I have never been to a Starbucks or coffee beans here.
    But I am glad that youth today are socializing better and still have time to finish their studies and attain their ambitions.
    The downside is that such coffee shops are making money by serving mediocre beverages and helping the authentic places shut down their business.
    However youth today should also be careful about overdose of caffeinated drinks.
    These are central nervous system stimulants and overdosing (more than 4 cups a day) can cause muscle twitching and insomnia amongst other things.

  8. October 19, 2007 6:50 pm

    @ Madhuri: There is a balance to be struck in caffeine consumption. I wrote about this ages ago and thought you would like to read it:

    http://laviequotidienne.wordpress.com/2007/08/14/daily-cups-of-joe/

  9. October 19, 2007 7:27 pm

    You guys should start some Tim Hortons. They’re quite awesome.

  10. October 19, 2007 8:02 pm

    Thanks everyone for responding!

    Nouman, thanks for sharing that experience. I know exactly what you mean when you say that staff becomes extended family…I experienced that at Vaish, where we used to spend hours. In fact one of the waiters still works there and it’s like meeting a long lost friend!

    Timethief, that is exactly what is happening. The ethnicity of most restaurants is disappearing…but at the same time we have restaurants like Culture Curry which deliberately create that ethnic atmosphere. What you get is artificiality!

    Shefaly, we too stop at MacDonalds for the loo! Don’t tell me Starbucks has better loos! I think I’ve changed my mind…I want Starbucks!!

    Prax, hope you had a good time. If you have some nice pictures of…er…coffee…you can post them on your blog.😉

    Madhuri, youth those days hung out too. But the brilliant people never did. They worked. Me, I used to head straight for Vaish…! Then look up my time-table! I was quite a vela in my days…and believe me we had more of that variety then than we have now!🙂 Today there is more competition and more work for everyone. I can’t say my Vaish days were wasted though…that’s where I developed my…er…social skills!🙂

    Justin, Tom Hortons are welcome, as long as they have good toilets.🙂

  11. Arleen permalink
    October 19, 2007 8:59 pm

    Here in the US, university towns seem to be the last bastion of non-chain coffee shops. The coffee and food are still overpriced (as one is paying for ambience and not coffee) but at least the shops have personality. The city in which I live is next to a large military base, and chain restaurants predominate. McDonaldization (and its more sinister cousin WalMartization) is a global phenomenon, and it is occurring apace here with the rest of the world. Are large corporations forcing out the mom and pop businesses, or do consumers seek the familiar and predictable? I don’t know the answer to that, but I know that I will continue to patronize independent establishments as long as possible!

  12. October 19, 2007 9:02 pm

    kapi…hot home made kapi is what i like…..when i go ut,i prefer a mocha or a cold coffee…or a shake or an coffee with ice cream…or something just for the sake of trying…but once in a while its ok….since i have coffee everyday min,2 times…

  13. October 19, 2007 9:03 pm

    “Somehow my friends and I never really hung out at coffee shops or eateries.”

    Isn’t it a matter of location and opportunity, not just interest?

    My college and then IIMA were so far out that we only went respectively to a dhaba (where all the bhadrolok and sambhrant jan girls never went, with my exception because the samosas were great!) and to a few places. In IIM we were hanging out where tea was served. But mostly we worked – alone, in groups etc. In Cambridge, my faculty has a suave common room cafe. I hate the rubbish Fairtrade coffee but the food is cost-plus and it is a bright open space from where you can see the faculty building in its entire post-modern splendour. During the Master’s here, the entire class of 17 sat around 1 table and chatted and shouted and gossiped. Age range was 22 to 42!

    Now end of college. Foreseeably no other stint in Uni etc for me boo hoo hoo…

    Welcome to the big bad world Shefaly!🙂 – Nita.

  14. October 19, 2007 9:37 pm

    Vishesh, now I wish I could make that kind of ‘Kapi’. Unfortunately for me I just can’t get it right, and we are all tea drinkers basically . So we are dependent on restaurants…we had some really good coffee when we lived in Bangalore though…

    Arleen, thanks. Your words ‘McDonaldization’ and ‘WalMartization’ do evoke sinister images! As Timethief said soon we will all live in some kind of identical world! China is already showing signs of it. Parts of urban china could well be america! However, I don’t think the mom and pop stores will ever disappear…but I do think they will be pushed to the edge of beyond…!

  15. wishtobeanon... permalink
    October 19, 2007 9:41 pm

    In Karnataka, there were some restaurants called Palaharadarshini or Priyadarshini (Udupi style) that served yummy south indian food like uthappams, dosas etc. and the coffee was wonderful too. I hope they don’t run out of business.

  16. October 19, 2007 9:50 pm

    thanks nita for the reference. I forgot to mention in my article that coffee shops (particularly non-starbucks non-chain ones) in US are a big gathering place for teens. For them it is sort of like a cool “bar lounge” – they cannot go to the real ones and so they prefer this.

    Many years ago when I go for these places for “Indian like coffee” (i.e. before I discovered my brew :)), I expected to find adult coffee lovers and instead found myself in the midst of 20 teenagers. It was like bizarro world.

  17. October 19, 2007 10:22 pm

    Wishtobeanon, I think in the south has a well-entrenched customer base for the coffee…so they are there to stay… but unless I shift to the south I will have to make do with what we get here…CCD!

    Arunk, so the non-chain ones serve better coffee. I wonder why. I am thinking…with so many people of Indian origin there perhaps opening up an Udipi joint just might work!!🙂

  18. October 19, 2007 10:25 pm

    We have some local coffee shops where I live, and they seem to be doing fine – no chain-coffee shops like Starbucks. (knock-on-wood) so far. Another attraction of coffee shops is free wi-fi internet they provide.

    Ah, that is America for you! – Nita.

  19. Ameya permalink
    October 19, 2007 10:39 pm

    Hey Nita I completely agree with you on this I feel coffee joints especially the over hyped CCD and Barista are worthless……the only reason i go there is to meet my long time friends who think its cool paying 65 bucks for a coffee which is so pathetic (Who in the world would think of drinking chocolate syrup with Vanilla ice cream and cold coffee!!!!).I rather go a traditional coffee shop like India coffee house which serves 17 varieties of coffee!!!!.I call Barista as Bari-Thasta which in my language means burns the pocke or stealst!!!!

  20. October 20, 2007 1:13 am

    dont know about the good time
    the coffee surely helped cure my irritated stomach
    did take a photo will post later so that u could link to it

  21. Captain Shraks permalink
    October 20, 2007 1:40 am

    CCD n barista r nothing but simply wastage of money,but neways it is something like a new trend for our corporates…..seems like hare krishna hare raam,subah ke baad seedhe shaam…..

  22. Padmini permalink
    October 20, 2007 3:44 am

    Like Nita, I’m a tea drinker although I still enjoy my mom’s coffee a lot. The reason is that she still uses the good old coffee filter which sometimes takes forever to seep, depending on the size of the holes and the position of the press over the coffee powder. But as they say, good things take time and the result is well worth the wait. My mother is an occasional Star Bucks coffee drinker, if there’s no other choice! Another place to check out for great coffee is Iyer’s Hotel in Mysore. This is a place which is on the way to Chamundi Hills if you’re touring, and the best place to stop after for Idlis, Vadas and hot coffee!

  23. madhurisinha permalink
    October 20, 2007 6:30 am

    Hey Nita and Shefaly,
    My college was in a residential area and the place did not really have any coffee shops or eateries. I was in MES college in Bangalore.
    So most of the time we had to rely on the college canteen. I was never the studious sort…really. I just had great friends who made excellent notes.🙂
    There was this one bhel puri shop, awful really.
    But now when I visit my college, its totally different. There is a huge coffee cum juice shop just at the end of the block and they do sell dosas too.
    I wish the coffee shop was there back then.
    But i do think socializing is very important.
    Its very important to be uninhibited (albeit to a social limit).
    I am glad todays coffee shops are helping the youth to socialize more.
    I will always regret the fact that I never got to get together with people from other streams.

  24. October 20, 2007 7:19 am

    Ameya, thanks and welcome.🙂
    I’ve had some issues with that chocolate syrup too! Finding a real coffee at these outlets – without chocolate, without froth, without ice-cream – is tough, if not impossible! Anyday places like India Coffee House are far better for a decent cuppa.

    Captain Sharks, as you said, it’s the desire to relax on sofas and listen to soft music that people go to these places for. Good to hear that so many people think it’s a rip-off!

    Padmini, thanks for that tip! And methinks that south indians make such good coffee at home, I think it’s a good idea to simply drop in to their place if one is craving for a good coffee!

    Madhuri, thanks.

  25. October 20, 2007 9:35 am

    nita where do you buy coffee powder from :)i will give you an mix…try it…but i need to know what balance of A and B or whatever you use🙂

    I use ready made coffeepowder and generally for good coffee we depend on restaurants. I have no idea what you mean by A & B – like i said we are basically tea-drinkers. thanks. – nita

  26. October 20, 2007 10:06 am

    @ Madhuri:

    “I was never the studious sort…”

    Oh, we are so totally believing that, you biology PhD!😉

  27. October 21, 2007 4:55 pm

    I am a big coffee drinker, and a big foodie too, kinda like to try food from everywhere from street side to big restaurants. Same with coffee too, When we were in college, CCD was too expensive for me to frequent, may be not so expensive, but never liked spending that much for a coffee.
    But then it turned out that it was not about coffee at all, it was more of a hangout, and I used to like it, mainly because 5 years back CCD was new in Bangalore, and it was not crowded at all, and we used to have blast over a coffee.
    As far as coffee places go, I like the coffee at this place called “kalmane coffees” its a new Cafe chain in Bangalore, and the best part is, couple of thems have a nice book store attached.The coffee too tastes good.
    Even though I drink a lot of filter coffee at home, cafe’s mean Cappuccino or Latte to me. and also espresso when I really want to drink coffee.
    I am not sure if you have thought from this angle, but I always associate Cappuccino with work, as I drink that a lot at work, and weekends mean Latte, which mentally takes me away from work.

  28. October 23, 2007 6:59 am

    Nice to see Vaishali ! Looks lot different, but hope they still have the same menu.

    We used to call the restaurnats in Pune as *.ali ( vaishali, panchali, rupli, and there was a rangoli although it does not fit the rhyme)IIRC. FC Road, and JM Road – Nice places to hang around!

    But all the Pune restaurants, even though they have started from Udupi, have spoilt the masale dose. Others things are good though.

    -neelanjana

  29. October 23, 2007 7:24 am

    When I wrote this post I felt some people with good old memories might drop in…well, it took some time but someone did!
    Vaishali has the same menu…but a lot of other stuff too. Far too crowded now though…it’s just not worth going there anymore, except to relive old memories. There’s another restaurant called Wadeshewar which has come up on the same road and that gives better food and better ambiance.

  30. Capt Kakes permalink
    June 2, 2008 1:34 pm

    I think we should not confuse between the types of coffees and expect all the coffee to be filter coffee.

  31. Anushya permalink
    June 10, 2008 5:05 pm

    I totally agree with you, and the whole lot who responded as well. I’m from the very generation you all have been talking about. I frequent Barista and CCD, but I have a special place in my heart for the the good ol’ Udipi places as well.

    There’s something about these coffee shops that is just so cool for most of my generation. I myself puzzle on how we all suddenly started hanging out at Baristas or CCDs. I think it was a phase, as we dont hang out that much there anymore. I think when we just got out of school, we were’nt allowed to go to too many places and also didnt know about too many places.Most of the times, people my age here in Mumbai probabaly have not been exposed to the finer nuances of good coffee. Hence they dont know if what they are having is bad coffee and also dont seem to care to find out. As long as the place has good “ambience” they think its good.

    Maybe these coffee shops were made out to be cool by us as they were the few places parents let us go to. That was the time we had to let our parents know of alomst any plan that we made outside the college timings. Also we didnt go to Barista much as that seemed to be more for the older and somehow more arty, sophisticated crowd. It was strange to sit in a Barista in a gnag of fifteen and be noisy. CCD had a much more conducive environment.

    I think these places are what they are because today’s “youth” gets bored really quickly. I dont think preserving the quaint cultures of a place is very important to them. They’r either indifferent to those cultures, or dislike them. But, im sure if these places got talked about on Page 3 or some insanely famous person said that that was his/her favorite adda when in college, that place would take off like crazy.

    Places become passe if they dont have something novel to offer. Something cool, diferent and novel. So thats why I can’t imagine a lot of people I know in a proper Udipi place appreciating the most authentic coffee and cuisine you will ever taste. Plus, the crowd in such places is not stimulating enough for them. In their heads there’s nothing great about such places. Are people going to peep in, see them sitting there and slot them as cool or arty or sophisticated or whatever it is they want to be slotted as? Mostly not.

    Anyway, my friends and I are quite the all-rounders. ; ) Ofcourse we still pitch in and buy one drink at Barista and sit around it for hours. Thats how we’re ok with paying 65 bucks for a drink there.

  32. Ravi permalink
    June 11, 2008 11:57 am

    I can get a good instant coffee in my apt itself never thought of goin to coffee shop just for coffee. I like the ambience. But whenever I m rushing after things I would simply go to McDonalds drive through to get some good coffee. Now I feel like getting one right now🙂

  33. Rahul permalink
    August 8, 2009 12:58 pm

    Its really interesting to read comments from the fellow coffee lovers…I am from Kolkata and we have our own favourite unsubstitutible Indian Coffee House (Albert Hall). The infamous “Infusion”(black coffee with or without sugar and milk) at the cheapest price has no alternative at the modern days CCD or Barista, et al. Though other foodies are not mentionable the average students of adjoining Presidency, Goenka and other colleges and Calcutta Unversity throng for pure “adda”. Our passion for coffee started from the Coffee House as tea is part and parcel of average bengali’s daily habits.
    I really do not get the satisfaction of coffee consumption be it any form at CCD or Barista or the likes.

    • Arun permalink
      September 2, 2012 6:08 pm

      Rahul…Coffee in the India Coffee Houses are almost always freshly brewed and they are excellent value for money. But all the coffee served here is 100% robusta , a far lower grade variety than the superior Arabica. Strictly if one is a coffee lover, than ICH brew is a notch inferior, but the ambiance here beats any other place hands down.

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