Starbucks, Chennai: Bucks from the ‘Star’ for Chennai, finally

India's first Starbucks Coffee Master Vibhor Mishra cuts the ribbon alongside Tata Starbucks Ltd CEO Avani Davda-1Chennai, July 8, 2014: After getting its share of various brands and categories of Cafes, from the first Qwikys till the very last Costa, Chennai has finally got its own outlet of Starbucks, the most iconic and celebrated coffee brand in the world, at Phoenix Market City, Velachery. The launch of the 50th Starbucks outlet in India happened in a close to subtle, yet heart-warming manner, with its CEO Avani Davda stepping aside to the let ‘the ribbon’ to be cut by India’s first Starbucks Coffee Master, Vibhor Mishra. This is definitely a resonance of the employee friendly work culture of Tata & Sons, the parent company of Tata Beverages, the 50-50 partner of Starbucks India.

Starbucks ChennaiVibhor, who is apparently the first Indian partner to successfully complete the Starbucks Coffee Master Program, later skillfully demonstrated the unique brewing process of the Pour-Over Set, which was exclusively introduced for the Chennai coffee lovers, in recognition of the rich coffee culture of this city and to extend the taste of Starbucks into their household.

IMG-20140708-WA005We were greeted with smiles and a shot of Java Chip Frappuccino and treated with free-flowing samples of snacks and pastries. The place was abuzz with the invited guests, mostly from the press, media and corporate fraternity, and later joined briefly by celebrities like actors Vikram Prabhu and Karthik Kumar and producer Ramkumar from the Tamil movie industry. Also present was Consul General of South Korea, Mr. Kyungsoo Kim.

IMG-20140708-WA021Stepping into the store definitely gave a better feel, at least when compared to its stores in the Middle East. The interiors and aesthetics have been majorly inspired by the spice heritage of Chennai and local arts and architecture, with wood-worked walls in darker shades of green and brown, matching brown leather seating, heritage inspired lighting and the whole store adorned with the traditional Kalamkari painting of Chennai. This woody and earthy look-n-feel has not just given the store a touch of heritage and tradition, but also made it look more upmarket. However, being the only Starbucks store in the city, it could’ve been a bit more spacious. Though it has the additional ‘al fresco’ seating (outside), the tropical climate of Chennai would usually force the crowd indoors, especially in daytime.

IMG-20140708-WA020After the Java Chip Frappuccino, which did have a unique flavour compared to the other cold coffees we have tasted, we decided to take a break from coffee and tried the snacks, while checking out the ‘Who’s Who’ of Chennai present there. Along came Basil Tomato & Mozzarella Cheese Sandwich which was a joy for the taste-buds, with the oven-fresh and soft multi-grain bread not hindering the feel of basil blending well with the juicy Mozzarella topped with evenly spread Pesto sauce, with rightly crisp and juicy tomato slice. The Chicken Mozzarella Turnover was the next to come but it didn’t turn out to be much of a ‘turn-on’ since it was not stuffed adequately. IMG-20140708-WA023We tasted the Blueberry Delight Cake after that, and that indeed compensated for the earlier tasting. The blueberry topping was perfectly sweet-sour and the cake was absolutely smooth. We decided to order the highlighted Caramel Macchiato with a suggested combination of Banana Chocolate Cake and a regular Espresso Frappuccino. The Macchiato was a total let-down, which neither gave us genuine taste of Caramel nor a real taste of coffee. On the other hand the classic Espresso Frappuccino had the right blend of bitter-sweetness and the Banana Chocolate Cake was good, but a tad sweeter than it was supposed to be.

IMG-20140708-WA030However, that’s just a critic’s view. The crowd present there seemed quite excited and thankful for the fact that Starbucks has finally arrived in Chennai, making the initial reception upbeat and very encouraging. As always, Starbucks is all set to extend its ‘The Third Place’ image to Chennai as well, with its signature brews, comfortable social environment, Wi-Fi support and much more. But what remains to be seen is whether it will survive the very unique Indian market, especially the ultra-conventional Chennai where brand image takes a backseat against value for money. God-speed Starbucks!

–      Aamir Rahman

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