Sample this: in a recently released report, Coffee Board of India has estimated that coffee consumption in India has grown 6 per cent annually since 2000, up from average growth rate of just 2 per cent in the decade before. It is not only the fastest growing segment, with an overall consumption around 1 to 1.1 lakh tonne, but is expected to double in the next five years. Value wise, the report puts organised cafe market at around Rs1,100 crore, thanks to various cafes and five star hotels, where growth is pegged at 20 per cent a year.
Another study conducted by Euromonitor International says: while India only represents 1.4 per cent of global demand, the subcontinent’s coffee market is forecast to grow almost 9 per cent to $486.6 million this year. That would follow growth of almost 80 per cent over the past five years. According International Coffee Organization, India’s annual coffee consumption of about 85 grams per capita is tiny compared with the 4.1 kilograms consumed in the USA. But with a population of 1.2 billion people, it is the expanding middle class that will soon be the market for most multinationals.
These reports point to the obvious: the rising popularity of coffee in India. What’s led to this, besides its youth-centric image, is also the influx of new cafe chains and manufacturers that have made gourmet coffees, read-to-brew coffee capsules and designer gourmet coffees popular. But is that the reason hotels have begun paying extra attention to this once obtrusive drink of a few?
“It’s the glamour associated with coffee,” says Satish Fernandes, executive assistant manager, F&B, Sun n Sand. “In the last few years, thanks to the big brand proliferation coffee has become a fashion beverage for a fast-paced lifestyle.” Agrees Rahul Kargaokar, director, F&B, Goa Marriott Resort & Spa, who believes that coffee is still not an obsession per se, but a drink that is used to portray a certain image — of being cool yet sophisticated and utterly modern. Though, he points out, “Coffee drinking in India is still in its nascent stage, where people are experimenting with taste and are limited mostly to the cappuccino range.”
Both have closely monitored rise of the coffee culture and feel that there is still a long way to go for India to become a “coffee obsessed” nation and “hotels to be threatened by the sudden mushrooming of international chains”. Vineet Wadhera, director, F&B, Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi, feels that the rise of coffee has been due to the emotional connect created by brands. “Coffee is a very sensuous, marketable product. People like the imagery of coffee; they’re familiar with the aroma and visual aspect of deep, rich coffee beans. With such a recognisable aroma, coffee is an emotional product that evokes certain feelings with such strong consumer affection; coffee has become an ingrained part of our daily life.” For Khursheed Anwar, owner, Pondicherry-based boutique hotel, Touskilfo, however, the rise of coffee culture is in a way the new-found “addiction to caffeine and a sign of going glocal.”
In fact, Anwar’s artisanal coffee shop Coffee.com and signature dish Mazagrand Iced Coffee is a tribute to the rising coffee culture. “Call it the boon of a modern lifestyle, but coffee has become an imperative part of people to relax, network and even socialise,” says the coffee aficionado, who also believes that coffee shop in a hotel is more than just another F&B outlet, but a commercially viable gateway to the hotel’s other facility.
Chef Arzooman Irani, executive chef, Vivanta By Taj – Whitefield, Bengaluru, seconds the opinion, albeit in parts. “Guests who frequent a hotel’s coffee shop are aware of what’s going in the other outlets, and are often the faces you would see venturing into other restaurants for dinner or a quick lunch. In fact, in many ways a coffee shop is like a window into the hotels offering,” says the chef who believes that constant innovation ensures guest turnover. Perhaps this explains why beverage menus in hotels offer more coffee options than tea, though, insists Chef Irani, “tea is still a preferred drink for most.”
While there is no denying that coffee is the highest selling non-alcoholic beverage with 20 per cent of the total sales being attributed to this brew, experts from the industry don’t see it as the “new wine” yet. The assessment is a little bewildering considering the efforts hotels put in to not only procure the best coffee beans, but also methods devised to brew their own signature coffees. Marriot, Jaipur, for instance, has its own team of coffee specialists who roast, grind, brew and even create flavours for guests reveals F&B manager Sudeep Sharma. Likewise, Touskilfo serves its own unique blend of coffee instead of using the ready-to-brew capsules supplied by Lavazza and others.
Explains Rishi Pandey, manager-restaurants at Courtyard by Marriott, Mumbai International Airport: “Yes coffee sells a lot, purely because it’s a fashion statement amongst the young working class, but that isn’t the reason for us going great lengths to procure the best material and machines to serve the perfect coffee. Coffee drinking in hotels is more of an indulgence — they know the exact taste, aroma and flavour of what they want. Our duty is to match the expectations.”
A point seconded by Fernandes and Kargaokar, who believes that the route with coffee is just to get it right. “Serving a coffee with the best beans is more important than creating drama along with it, since it is the sip that makes all the difference,” says Kargaokar, who feels that with the current buzz, brewing the coffee bean right is effective marketing. But for others, experiments to better their offering continue to be top priority with coffee emerging as the second most preferred beverage among guests.
At Vivanta By Taj (Whitefield), coffee now is part of the bar menu. “We have introduced concept called, “Ask the bartender” in Tease, the bar. He has been very successful selling the warm Irish liqueur cocktail, the coconut frappe with Malibu and the espresso martini. In addition to this, breakfast buffet also has dark decoction shot which is very strong, very sweet filter coffee decoction topped with ice,” says Chef Irani, who is in the process of introducing the joys of ‘filter coffee’ to the expats.
For Shangri-La’s-Eros Hotel, coffee is now an indulgence much like the Chinese tea, replete with latte art and expert baristas to having semi-automatic machines that can be re-tuned to add new flavours on a daily basis. “We have a coffee pairing menu in place that can be offered to guests instead of the artisanal and biscotti that has been in practice for some time. And given that guests are willing to experiment, we have introduced an array of sweeteners (with honey, palm sugar and more) to help them experience coffee differently,” says Wadhera.
Is this in response to the entry of Starbucks and others in India, and their expansion? The answer is an assertive not. Incidentally, says Kargaokar, “For the F&B outlet in any hotel, coffee, though a good attraction for guests, isn’t a revenue model and hence sale doesn’t affect much.”
However, admits the seasoned professional, “What Starbucks has affected is exposure to better coffee beans and techniques that can take coffee making and drinking to a new level.”