The newspaper cartoon in Mumbai that drew the most comments last week depicted a chawalla in traditional garb working the queue, selling tea to those waiting to get into the newly opened Starbucks Tata Alliance tea and coffee shop.
On Saturday, that tea vendor would have sold out as a power outage in the building kept the crowd waiting for more than an hour. Guards prevented me from stepping inside but a very capable publicist directed me to a Starbucks nearby where I enjoyed a well-crafted matcha smoothie and five cups of various versions of coffee all made with India-grown beans.
Starbucks is a big hit. The experience was oddly familiar, as a Saturday morning crowd in this affluent waterfront area bought Indian-inspired pastries such as Eliachi Mawa Croissant, tandoori chicken sandwiches, and endless cups of lattes, macchiatos, iced coffees, Frappuccinos, and some espresso. Selling milk drinks to those who live in a country that drinks chai proved popular.
Customers were seated at tables, reading the newspaper and chatting about their shopping exploits.
My companion, Amit Mehta, co-founder of Chado Tea retail in Mumbai, was impressed. He noted that the customers represented a very broad clientele from tourists and sightseers to local residents of the hip urban Mumbai waterfront where the store is located. He called the food perfectly “internationalized” with the spice, cheese, and sweetness of India toned down for a clientele that clearly represented every culture on earth.
The Taj Mahal Hotel is a waterfront masterpiece of classic architecture, imposing and inviting. The Starbucks is located in the block behind the hotel entrance with easy access. Security is extremely imposing at the hotel due to the tragic assault and murder of patrons there in November 2008. Explosions killed 175 in at attack known as 26/11.
I had a great time with the baristas (who know a lot about tea). The matcha smoothie they made was a hit… not many folks order them and the manager got involved in the mixing. It tasted great. I had iced coffee, Frappaccino, caramel latte and macchiato… six cups in all lined up at the tasting bar.
Starbucks sells tea in a half dozen flavors in tins labeled Tata Tazo. Chai tea latte 90 rupees (a street vendor chawalla charges 10 rupees).
A tall Caramel Frappuccino sells for 160 rupees (about 50 rupees per $1 or $2.97) and a short Macchiato was INR 115. Drinks and snacks for the two of us came to $20.Starbucks has opened three stores in Mumbai and will soon open in New Dehli and other urban areas in the country.
I am traveling through India this week and will report from the India International Tea Convention in Goa where he is speaking on the Tipping Point: Investors are spending millions seeking a retail format that will trigger the tipping point for tea.