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One of the weird joys of traveling around the world is to see how global American brands fare in different countries and what are the local touches added to them, if any. Back in the day, McDonald’s used to be that bellwether brand, but these day it is Starbucks, as the coffee culture sweeps across traditionally tea-drinking countries like India and elsewhere.
Starbucks arrived in India about a year ago, in a joint venture with Tata Coffee, Asia’s largest coffee plantation company. And now 15 stores later and a planned 50 by end of the year, it is still early days to say whether it will catch on and compete with the likes of ubiquitous Cafe Coffee Day, Barista Lavazza, and others.
As is usually the case with Starbucks expansion into emerging countries, the brand has been upscaled in India and compared to the usual surrounding of crowded Indian city streets, these stores are luxurious, airy and posh, in the true sense of the word.
I was in New Delhi last week, and went into its flagship Starbucks store in the central shopping district of Connaught Place. This first Delhi store opened in March to much fanfare, and judging by the looks of it, certainly deserves it.
Certainly you could argue that the impossibly hip Amsterdam Starbucks — opened last year — or the architectural marvel Fukuoka store may win purely on design aesthetics. But the cognitive dissonance of life right outside the Delhi store — hot, humid, crowded, in-your-face as always — versus the stylishness of inside is probably more jarring than anything else I have ever encountered in my travels through continents. Bright, airy, and with lots of local touches, the seating is sparse for being an Indian store. The crowd is a mix of upper class young Indians and tourists gawking at the marvel of seeing a Starbucks unlike any other they have seen before.
My photo essay through the store is above, and as you’ll see, I went slightly overboard with the fawning. But for someone used the the skeezy and icky New York Starbucks stores, the cleanliness of this is astounding, to say the least. One of the photos I couldn’t take was of the the restrooms, where there was a male and female attendant each, akin to what you would see in upscale hotels.