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'It is Starbucks!'

Last updated on: October 22, 2012 13:41 IST

Havin coffee @ India's 1st Starbucks : )!

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Starbucks opened its coffee shop, ever, with locally sourced and roasted beans, in Mumbai. Rediff.com's Vaihayasi Pande Daniel and photographer Rajesh Karkera were present when the American coffee chain commenced operations.

Are you just going to take pictures? Or are you going to drink the coffee?" asks a pretty young woman, slightly irritably, of her partner.

The partner is fanatically obsessing over creating the perfect picture of his steaming Cappucchini Caffe Latte, in the green twin-tailed mermaid/siren signature cup, with his Android phone and posting it to Facebook (or is it Twitter).

From across the table one can't read his post/tweet...

But it probably says: Havin coffee @ India's 1st Starbucks :)

It is 10 am, Saturday morning. Fort Starbucks, the first Starbucks outlet in India opened last night at 10 pm. South Mumbai's natty crowd has woken up excitedly to the fact that they now have a Starbucks at their doorstep.

The SoBo-ites are slowly tripping in, many in flip flops, a tee and shorts or loose pants that look suspiciously like pajamas, for their pehla dekko and first cuppa. Many have come alone on an exploratory visit. Others have come with their moms or elderly parents or toddlers in tow, mumbling to each other: "They have done it well!"

Behind me a girl whispers animatedly into her phone: "I told you I was going to wake up in the morning and come here..."

Not all are dressed casual. Customary SoBo snobbery is in play when a woman mutters disgruntled, with a sniff, to her husband and her friend with a Harrods bag, "I thought the coffee would have been more expensive. Then there wouldn't have been such a crowd."

Husband/partner retorts, "You thought it would be in prices converted from dollars?!"

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Image: The Green Aprons are in charge at Fort Starbucks, Mumbai
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

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An elegant address

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The tame line of eager customers, waiting good-humouredly to order and pay at the cash register, is now winding out the door and is about 30-persons long.

But the gathering crowd does not cram or mar the ambiance of the place. Starbucks's first coffee shop in India is a gracious, spacious, two-storied affair that can easily accommodate 150 or more in its 4,500 square feet area.

Occupying the premises of a former Tata financial office, Starbucks has an elegant address: Elphinstone Building, Horniman Circle, Fort -- a sandstone Venetian Palazzo style structure with arched walkways (the building is owned by the Tatas) in a semi-circular stretch of equally haughty buildings in Bombay's first planned business district (built in the 1870s) where cotton and opium brokerage firms were once located.

History was made a few doors from here when Bombay Chronicle Editor Benjamin Guy Horniman published articles supporting Indian nationalism and was arrested and deported back to his native Britain.

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Image: India's first Starbucks is located at Horniman Circle, Mumbai
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/Rediff.com

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'This store's been designed with great respect and sensibility to the culture of India'

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Starbucks made its own history of sorts, opening its first coffee shop in India after spending a decade, probably or more, eyeing India's large attractive market of coffee drinkers and spending nearly six years, since its initial false start, planning its entry into India.

It already has 971 outlets in Japan and 700 outlets in China (where it launched operations 12 years ago) and was valiantly trying to enter Asia's third promising market, without much luck.

Howard Schultz, Starbucks' iconic CEO and president, told reporters at the opening of the chain in India in collaboration with Tata Global beverages on Friday: "This is the first time we have opened any market, in over 40 years, with coffee which is locally sourced and roasted (from plantations in Coorg, Karnataka)."

"You can see from this store, the design, the size, the scale, the intimacy, the elegance, not only is it a great Starbucks store," Schultz added, "but hopefully you can see that this store has been designed with great respect and sensibility to the culture of India."

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Image: The outlet is 4,.500 sq feet and can seat 120
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

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'An emotional moment for me'

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"I said to many of my friends: This is a historic moment for both the Starbucks Coffee Company and for me personally," CEO Howard Schultz said.

"I have been to many store openings and many market openings. This is an emotional moment for the company and for me. Why? Because we have dreamed about coming here for many years and to be honest we have been frustrated that we just couldn't get it right."

Starbucks Coffee Company, the largest coffee shop chain in the world, plans to scale up fairly quickly in India, hitting smaller towns too, but is not saying how many outlets it will have open within the next year.

Initially, when Starbucks announced its India plans in January, it spoke about 50 outlets by 2012 and investment in the joint venture with the Tatas of Rs 4 billion.

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Image: CEO Howard Schultz launches Starbucks in India
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

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The 61st country on the Starbucks map

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Starbucks, which opened the doors of its first coffee house in Seattle in 1971 (and is named for a character in Herman Melville's Moby Dick), currently has more than 19,000 outlets worldwide (a few even on cruise ships) in 61 countries, recently adding Norway and Finland to that list, just prior to India.

Schultz, the son of a Brooklyn truck driver who grew up in a New York City Housing Authority project and won a sports scholarship to college, began as an employee of Starbucks and later bought the company in 1988. He was responsible for popularising and expanding the concept of an espresso chain after a visit to Milan, Italy, home of the delectable espresso and capuccino.

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Image: High ceilings, warm colours, retro ambience
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

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Home, work -- and Starbucks

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The coffeehouse company has made sure the interiors at the Fort Starbucks (open daily 8 am to 11 pm; weekends till 1 am) mirror the exterior.

Unlike the Starbucks of New York or Los Angeles, Mumbai's first Starbucks is decked out with velvet drapes, warm colors, stacks of old trunks, oodles of wood, volumes of antique books, murals depicting a vibrant India and plenty of inviting lounging chairs in continuation of its philosophy to strive to be the third place: Home, work -- and Starbucks.

The inaugural menu boasts competitive prices for the shorts -- Caffe Latte Rs 95, Cappuccino Rs 95, Espresso Rs 80, Caramel Macchiato Rs 115, Caramel Frappuccino Rs 160.

Deepa, an operations manager for the chain in India, who spent many years at the Seattle headquarters, but is at the moment the mainstay at this new outlet, says there have been a lot of orders for shorts as opposed to the larger sizes favoured especially by American patrons.

A lady customer collecting her espresso adds, "In the Singapore Starbucks they don't even have that size."

Apart from a range of espressos and frappuccinos, several varieties of tea are offered. Snacks run to sandwiches (no bacon, no beef, a nod to Muslim and Hindu sensibilities), croissants, paneer and chicken tikka wraps (they move fast) and a proud selection of tea cakes, muffins and cookies (they're good) including an Indian ambassador among the lot -- the Elaichi Mawa croissant.

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Image: The interiors mirror the exterior...
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

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'It is Starbucks!' he says, implying that says it all

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Second day, first show, the staff in green aprons are grappling with teething problems, but nothing serious.

The chain has brought in some of its best professionals from abroad to assist the Indian staff launch -- it's all very hands on.

Folks, with colourful accents, ranging from the US West Coast to London and Hong Kong, flock like mother hens, hand-holding the Indian team, teaching them how to strain the mochas, crank up the espresso machines or maintain the snack cold bins and get the Starbucks formula right.

For most of the initial customers a visit to the first Starbucks on Indian soil is a sort of nostalgia trip. It reminds them of visiting Starbucks on journeys overseas.

A young man has brought his mother and seems to be telling her about having his first cup of Starbucks coffee in Cleveland, Ohio, and about his chats with Starbucks staff there. "...She did not know where India was! She said to me, 'Where in this map is India?'"

Mitali, an early bird at the shop, says: "Have had Starbucks coffee on my travels. This coffee is really good. It is on par."

Srihans is waiting for his order. Why did he decide to come here this morning? "It is Starbucks!" he says, implying that says it all.

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Image: Conjuring up frappuccinos
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

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'It tastes a little bit different from America. An Indian taste'

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Zehanab, a stockmarket analyst who works close by, but lives in Bandra, northwest Mumbai, feels the coffee is well priced.

"It is cheaper than Costa (Costa Coffee, the British chain)! It tastes a little bit different from America. An Indian taste," she says approvingly.

A businessman from London parks himself at the counter and starts up his laptop. He came in for the Wi-Fi, he says. He eyes the snaking line doubtfully and opts to use just the Wi-Fi for starters (that's allowed). Maybe he can grab a cup when there is a lull in business. At the moment the crowd is only growing as more and more trendsetting teenagers now arrive.

A Starbucks executive from Seattle helps the Londoner get connected to the Wi-Fi. The plastic packaging of the Wi-Fi card is proving troublesome to open (the executive says he has already helped many customers since Friday cut open the packaging with scissors and that's something the company will fix!).

He has been in India for the past three weeks and will head back to Seattle in some hours. No, he can't wait for the launch of the next two Starbucks outlets at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel and the Oberoi Mall, Goregaon, northwest Mumbai, or the Delhi one thereafter. "My wife will kill me," he says.

When Starbucks opened its doors on Friday night the executive says they had 300 people pouring in between 10 pm and midnight and lines that continued till 1 am.

"I got back to the hotel at 3 am and was back here at 6 am. I am running on fumes!"

A backpacker (and musician) named Jarrod patiently waits for his favourite Mocha. Guess where he is from? Seattle! He has been on the road for a year and travelled across four continents. He happened to be wandering near Horniman Circle, Friday, and came across the about-to-open Starbucks.

When he told his friends from Seattle about it, they urged him to visit. So he's here on Saturday to have his first Mocha in a year; something to remind him of home!

Around the corner from Starbucks exists as legendary a chai shop and bakery -- and it is nearly 24 years older than the first Starbucks.

At the Yazdani Bakery (which opens at 5.30 am), famous for its fragrant Brun-Maska (Rs 20) with Chai, neither owner Zend Meherwan Zend nor his nephew Tirandaz Irani have heard of Starbucks or its Mumbai opening.

"Our money (customers) will go there?" they ponder for a moment, but then add, with a smile, "They will all still come here. We are cheap."


Image: The green twin-tailed siren arrives in India
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

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