Food Review: Starbucks

October 25, 2012 7:31 am by

Fifty minutes. That’s how much time it took waiting in a line to make it to the counter of the country’s first Starbucks, which opened in Horniman Circle on Saturday, October 20. Two decades after liberalisation, you’d imagine India’s young ‘uns (the queue on a weekday afternoon consisted mainly of college kids) would be jaded enough to shrug off the entrance of yet another global chain. Yet, such was the excitement to clutch an ice-cold, 320-calorie whipped cream-topped caramel Frappuccino that the barista said he’d lost count of how many had been ordered. “Too many,” he shrugged, kitted out in the signature green apron and black cap, as he closed yet another one in its domed plastic top.

The opening of Starbucks in Mumbai (with two more opened as of this week, one in The Taj of all places) has attracted its fair share of cynics who have poo-pahed the Seattle-based behemoth’s over-priced offerings. Some have said that they’d rather get their Matunga filter coffee for half the price, while others have dismissed the hoopla as nothing more than over-marketed hype to a country that notably welcomed McDonald’s back in 1996 with the same amount of fanfare. But, waiting for those 50 minutes, much of it spent in muggy, sweltering heat, you got the sense that the naysayers will be drowned out by those for whom the words “skinny” “venti” and “triple shot” will soon become a much welcomed part of their lexicon.

So what of the food and drinks? The Americano (standard issue black coffee, Rs90, all orders for a “short” or their smallest size), chai tea latte (their version of a masala tea, Rs90) and the caramel Frappuccino (Rs160) were all exactly as we’ve tasted them at Starbucks everywhere else in the world. The Frappuccino was a thick, slushy sweetish mixture of coffee, ice chips and milk, the coffee strong and well-brewed. Even the silly-named chai tea latte, with its lightly sweetened and fragrant cardamom-heavy mixture, is sure to find takers. Of the food (which unlike most Starbucks elsewhere is heated and delivered to your table), the flaky Konkan chicken twist (Rs90), made with a red masala, and the green-chutney infused tandoori kebab sandwich (Rs140) were both moderately spiced to make for light tea snacks. The tandoori paneer roll (Rs140), sandwiched using a flax-seed flecked roll, was a bit more bland but still serviceable, perhaps owing to a cautious use of chilli. The sweet offerings fared less well—the banana muffin (Rs100) was dry; the dark chocolate truffle gateaux (Rs130) overly sweet; and the eliachi mawa croissant (Rs130), crusted with pistachio, akin to a bloated baklava.

There is the sense that Starbucks is pulling out all the stops to appeal to its Indian audience, including keeping prices competitive and service generous. Indeed, one anxious young man there to collect an order for his boss was given a complimentary refill after his coffee got cold while he waited. Our drinks were made twice after a supervisor noticed that a young barista had made less-than-stellar versions. Even the decor, with its heavy-handed touches (henna pattern floor, lovely; ornate temple-like wood carvings, not so much) appears to be trying very very hard to fit in. But Starbucks needn’t have bothered; such is their brand value that even posh ladies, with their Dior bags and kitten heels, on looking at the snaking queue, sighed and then quickly took their place.