Chai cafes woo coffee fans in urban India

Wed Feb 8, 2012 1:48am EST
 
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By Diksha Madhok

NEW DELHI, Feb 8 - A first-time visitor to New Delhi might think Indians are addicted to coffee. There are at least 10 coffee shops in Connaught Place, the city's financial and commercial hub, most within sight of each other and doing well.

But if somebody wanted to enjoy a cup of tea at a similar sort of cafe devoted to tea they'd be out of luck, even in the world's second-largest tea producer -- and a country where people drink nearly eight times more tea than coffee each year.

The lack of a single national franchise centered on tea, known in India as chai and served in a glass, has come into especially sharp focus now that coffee giant Starbucks is poised to make its entry into India.

"You can find nice coffee anywhere, but finding a perfect cup of chai outside is really tough," said Smiti Singh, a Bangalore-based software engineer, who drinks at least four cups of tea a day.

Vriti Malik, a marketing professional in New Delhi, spends 1,400 rupees ($29) on coffee a week and wouldn't mind spending the same on tea, but the flavor just doesn't measure up.

"If it is good chai, I would not mind spending money," she said. "I would like to see a lot of different flavors of tea, and healthy stuff like green tea."

No matter what people say, much of the problem is image.

There are numerous tea vendors who set up shop under a tree or on the streets in India, but the quality of chai they offer for five rupees (10 cents) is often suspect. India's growing urban middle-class would rather pay a few extra rupees for the clean, posh settings offered by coffee shops.   Continued...