Starbucks, Connaught Place, New Delhi
This is my opinion about Starbucks. I am going to separate out the ambience/experience from the coffee per se to give a rounded opinion.
Starbucks is undoubtedly the latest fad in town. In fact, I would go as far as saying that the social butterflies (and moths) of Delhi are now stolidly appeased with nary more than coffee for their spirits. I will admit without shame that I fought the Delhi crowds and sampled their coffee the very first day; in fact, I will try not to be doubly ashamed when I admit that I did the same in Mumbai as well. But then I have a special relationship with Starbucks. I spent a couple of months next to the world’s first Starbucks at Pike Street Market at Seattle. Here, I should mention that Seattle is fanatical about coffee with people having die hard relationships with their roasts and people ashamed to admit they don’t drink coffee in that city.
In a market like that, Starbucks makes the cut, and I have some thoughts why.
Let me get one thing out there right away – their equipment is undoubtedly superior to anything else in the market right now. When I visited Starbucks, I was something like 40′th in line. I received my macchiato in 10 minutes after placing my order and the coffee was so hot, it scalded my tongue.
Coming to the coffee itself; the beans were milder roasted than Costa Coffee (my personal preference). That meant that the coffee would be less acidic. Cafe Coffee Day has the same roast levels as Costa Coffee and has been my fall back. I think Barista has changed it’s roast to be the same degree, but the problem with Barista is their equipment – especially visible in the crema. I am still divided between Costa Coffee and Starbucks on the crema, but I would probably give the edge to Costa Coffee on this one. For those who don’t drink espresso, this is clearly visible in their brown topped cappucino as opposed to a white topped cappucino (called blonde). Barista comes second on this (on a good day) and Cafe Coffee Day last. Incidentally, Diva Piccolo at Hauz Khas Village has, on occasion, made great espresso with great crema – but since they use Illy beans that don’t see too much demand, results may vary.
Sidenote: I couldn’t take a look at the grinder that Starbucks was using, but their hoppers were uncovered. That was a bit surprising to me, because beans can absorb odors and moisture like a sponge. That is something to be concerned about.
Starbucks also carries (horribly expensive) beans from around the world, which they will be happy to grind for you. At the Mumbai outlet, the dude was knowledgeable enough to tune his grinder to my preferences. I suggest you buy the Dark Sumatra, if you are so inclined.
Let’s come to the ambience. Starbucks Connaught Place has set new standards. The slate walls with chalk drawings and the woven ceilings are very, very cool. Sort of a Dilli Haat-ish ambience. Costa Coffee comes second . Cafe Coffee Day comes third. Barista does not even come close. (Gloria Jean’s has consistency problems with cleanliness, else it would have tied with Costa Coffee).
Lastly food – The only other place which can compete is Costa Coffee, which has very, very good food. However, Starbucks carries mozzarella and tomatoes salad (Caprese) and a smoked salmon croissant. QED.
As a student of operations research, I must mention that Starbucks owns patents around processes of making coffee. The fact that they have made a science of coffee making shows in their ordering system, which is far superior even under extremely high demand. However, as compared the Mumbai outlet, the Delhi outlet wasn’t as seamless (they ran out of croissants 15 mins after taking my order), but I’ll reserve my opinion that one.