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Why India’s yuppies want Starbucks and it’s not about the coffee

The Guardian’s Kavitha Rao writes:

Social commenters are bemused by the lemming-like flood [to Starbucks]. “Best coffee? No way. It’s all about feeling foreign and upper class,” sneered one sceptic. “Two decades after liberalisation, you’d imagine India’s young ‘uns would be jaded enough to shrug off the entrance of yet another global chain” mused popular website Mumbai Boss. “When can you say you went to the opening of the first ever Starbucks?” tweeted one unabashed groupie.

Me, I am somewhere in the middle. Starbucks is not our coffee messiah and deserves no genuflections. True, India is mainly a tea-drinking nation. However, southern India has always had a vibrant coffee culture. For many Indian taste buds, including mine, nothing beats strong frothy “filter” coffee from Coorg, India’s premier coffee producing area. As one commenter on the Guardian website rightly pointed out, you can get excellent coffee on every street corner for less than a few rupees.

However, coffee snobs are missing the point entirely. The Indian yuppie does not want to stand on a street corner, however good the coffee. Most streets here are awash with sewage, garbage and gaping manholes, so why would he or she? Sure, there are also plenty of darshinis and dhabas (basic cafes and teahouses) across India, where you can get excellent coffee or chai for a few rupees, and be in and out in less than 10 minutes. But the potential Starbucks customer doesn’t want that. That’s what their daddy drank.

What he or she wants is a clean, quiet, comfortable, air-conditioned space, to work, meet friends or linger for hours, no questions asked. Such hangouts are scarce in India, and with the urban chaos outside, boy, do we need them.

India’s women, desperately short of safe public spaces, want to sit by themselves without being leered at, as they might be in dhabas. India has an estimated 200 million people between 18 and 25. The young, who usually live with extended families in cramped houses, want to chat, date and escape their prying parents. The growing number of entrepreneurs who work from home are looking for venues to network and meet clients.

And everyone – absolutely everyone – will be looking for that scarcest of commodities in India: a clean toilet. It’s not about the coffee. It’s about the coffee house…..

The Guardian: Read the full article

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