STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Starbucks last week announced a plan to open stores in India by the end of the year. Let's follow up on that. This move might certify India as a rising coffee-drinking power, but it also signals a cultural change in a country that is devoted to tea. Elliot Hannon reports from New Delhi.
ELLIOT HANNON, BYLINE: The sound of a barista hard at work may be a familiar one in the U.S. or in Europe.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Cappucino would be fine, ma'am?
HANNON: But India has always been a tea-drinking country at heart. Over the past decade, the country's loyalties have been changing. Thousands of coffee shops have sprouted across the country and coffee consumption has doubled. Young Indians were the earliest converts. With more money to spend as India's economy has boomed, they've taken to the new cafe culture, making coffee houses a popular hangout spot. Increased exposure to foreign brands, like Starbucks or Lavazza, through travel, movies and the Internet has helped make the whole cafe culture hip, says Vinay Gopinath, head of marketing and sales for the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf franchises in India. It's a California-based chain that opened here in 2008.
VINAY GOPINATH: It's a rapid evolution that's happening. You can like not want to term it as a revolution. Now with cafe culture going up, coffee has become the in-thing with the younger generation.
HANNON: Cafe Coffee Day, India's largest coffee chain, has also played a role. Coffee was already popular in homes in India's coffee-producing South. But instead of trying to grow cafe culture there, the coffee chain decided to think bigger and targeted the urban youth in cities like Mumbai and New Delhi. The Indian company first opened in the mid-1990s, offering a Starbucks-like atmosphere. The bustling cafes are designed to be a home away from home. To encourage young Indians to linger, sofas line the well-lit cafes and only the latest music gets played. Cafe Coffee Day focused on convincing them that they liked getting coffee, even if they were coffee lovers, says Arvind Singhal, the head of Technopack, a consulting firm in New Delhi.
ARVIND SINGHAL: They have done a lot in popularizing coffee as a sexy beverage to have, especially in urban India. Coffee drinking could be synonymous for a certain strata of society as your younger, as you're younger, you're cooler, you're affluent.
HANNON: Cafe Coffee Day now has more than 1,200 outlets in 175 cities. At Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Varun Goyal sits with two female friends. The 25-year-old engineer finishes off an iced mocha. But that's not why he's here.
VARUN GOYAL: We come here just for hangout kind of thing. That's it. Not especially for coffee. Coffee is just a means of hanging out. That's it.
HANNON: Many young Indians still live at home. Having a beer with friends at a bar is still frowned upon in many parts of the country, especially for women, says Arvind Singhal.
SINGHAL: There was a void for people of all ages to find a place, which is sort of a neutral place they can just go and sit. A girl and boy could go and nobody would sort of look at them as they're dating or something. So that has driven the growth of cafes in India. Beverage is incident.
HANNON: But the beverage isn't cheap. Varun Goyal's bill comes to about $8 for a round of coffee, but the whole package is worth the price, he says.
GOYAL: The bill shows 382 for three coffees. So cool, not that much. It's OK. Yeah, I saw that. The ambience of this coffee shop's good.
HANNON: For NPR News, I'm Elliot Hannon in New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.