Till about 15 years ago, the options for going out for a coffee were fairly limited in Delhi. All the five-star hotels, and some of the other upper-rung hotels, did have their own coffee shops, but these were (and still are) exorbitantly priced—especially if all one wanted to do was meet up with old friends over a cup of coffee. Or if one was in a hurry and wanted to grab a sandwich somewhere along the way.
Then, in 2000, Barista made its debut in Delhi, bringing with it good coffee, cakes, sandwiches—better than what was formerly available at the government-run ‘coffee homes’, but nowhere as expensive as the coffee shops in hotels.
Over the years, more have opened. Some, like Café Coffee Day, are home-grown. Others, like Costa Coffee, Gloria Jean’s, and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, are part of multinational chains. Almost every major market in Delhi now has at least one of these stores; some have multiple brands. Even small neighbourhood markets often have at least a Café Coffee Day.
How do they stack up?
Barista was the first major chain to set up coffee stores in Delhi, and they’re pretty prominent all across town—you’ll see Barista stores, both big and small, in most major shopping areas. There are generally two types of Barista stores: the regular ones, and the Barista Crème ones, the latter offering a wider range of dishes, including made-to-order stuff such as pastas and potato wedges: nothing fancy.
The usual fare at Barista consists of a range of readymade sandwiches (be ready for limp lettuce!), small pies and tarts, quiches, and a variety of muffins, cakes (cream and/or chocolate laden ones seem to predominate). A lot of their savouries tend to cater specifically to Indian palates, so if you see anything labelled ‘spicy’ or ‘masala, you can be pretty sure it will be spicy. The un-iced cakes and muffins are inconsistent: mostly, they’re fine enough if you’re visiting in the early part of the day; beyond that, you might end up something pretty dry.
Strengths: Their range of coffees, which are pretty good, since they’ve tied up with Lavazza. Decent range of decaf too, and good cool drinks, including seasonal specialities like mango-based beverages in summer.
2. Café Coffee Day: A friend of mine, who’s a pastry chef, swears by Café Coffee Day’s espresso: he says it’s the best in town. Another acquaintance, also a chef, turned down an offer from
Café Coffee Day to be their consultant chef for the food menu—because he thought the image of the chain was pretty downmarket. (He also happened to overhear a pimp brokering a deal with a customer while having coffee at a Café Coffee Day outlet, so that may have influenced his decision).
My main grouse with Café Coffee Day is… well, everything. For one, their food is the pits. Too many Café Coffee Day outlets list a number of sandwiches, puffs, pies, etc on the menu, but the display counter (which is essentially all they offer) will have a few greasy samosas, some aloo bondas (spicy potato croquettes), and a couple of other equally spicy, oily and unappetising items. Sweets are in a minority, and about the only un-iced ones you’ll find are brownies, mostly not great.
Also, their more exotic drinks (like a recent one that I tried, called a ‘cinapple’—a cold coffee with cinnamon and apple flavouring) can be disastrous. The one I had was prettily layered, but I wasn’t told to stir it. So, while I got so-so milky coffee for most of the drink, the last swallow consisted of a glug of nauseatingly sweet artificial apple-cinnamon flavour.
Café Coffee Day have recently been renovating their outlets and opening more high-end stores (one in Khan Market, for instance). The menus sound a whole lot better and more extensive (we haven’t eaten a meal at one yet, though a brownie I had was a vast improvement on the usual Café Coffee Day brownie).
Strengths: The hot coffees, especially the ‘usual’ ones, like the espresso, cappuccino, mocha, and latte, are decent enough.
3. Costa Coffee: Originally launched in the UK, Costa Coffee has a number of outlets in Delhi now, and is certainly a step up from Barista and Café Coffee Day. Perhaps not as far as the coffee goes—Barista and Café Coffee Day do sell coffee as good as Costa’s—but definitely when it comes to food.
Costa offers a wide variety of sandwiches (including ones not made with boring old sliced bread, but also panini (our favourites are the mushroom and cheese, and the herby roasted chicken panini). They also have savoury and sweet pastries, with good croissants, chocolate twists, and chilli-mushroom puffs, among others. And they keep revamping their menus, to add interesting new dishes now and then: the latest are a range of bite-size snacks you can order with your drink, such as tiny shepherd’s pies, chai latte custard tarts, etc.
Strengths: The food, which is generally superior to that of Barista or Café Coffee Day. And their service, which tends to be mostly more efficient than I’ve noticed in the other chains. The fact that Costa Coffee actually make it a point to employ hearing disabled people as servers, thus giving greater opportunities to people who might otherwise be sidelined, is a major point in their favour, as far as I’m concerned!
4. The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf: Our favourite. Our absolute favourite—which is why my husband and I keep wishing The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf would open more stores in Delhi (I’ve only seen three stores so far, two in Delhi and one in NOIDA).
Besides the fact that it has a great range of coffees, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf gets a thumbs-up from us because it also offers some lovely, unusual teas (vanilla Ceylon, anyone? Or Japanese cherry? Or some equally exotic, wonderful flavours?) Also, while the range of food isn’t huge, it’s wide enough to offer you several choices of pasta, sandwich, puff, etc—and it’s good. Our particular favourite when we’re really hungry is the delicious chicken pesto cream with spaghetti.
The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf also do the best cheesecakes I’ve had in any coffee store in Delhi, and their muffins and cookies are good, too.
Strengths: The quality of both food and beverage, and the range of beverages on offer.
5. Gloria Jean’s: Like Costa Coffee and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Gloria Jean’s too isn’t homegrown: this one’s originally Aussie. It doesn’t have too many outlets that I’ve come across (and one that I particularly liked, at Basant Lok, has shut shop). While Gloria Jean’s do have some good things on their menu (a fantastic roast chicken sandwich, for example, and some good chocolate chip muffins), they’re terribly inconsistent. I’ve had excellent food at the Basant Lok outlet, and terrible food—stale lamingtons, dry-as-dust brownies—at the Vasant Kunj outlet, just a couple of kilometres away. Also, while their non-vegetarian food is generally good, the veggie options tend to be either swamped in spice or overcooked (or, worse still, both). Not a good choice if you’re vegetarian.
Strengths: Not sure I’d put anything here, because you can never be sure, they’re so variable. Unfortunately, even the range of coffees they offer is rather limited. Tea drinkers can hope for maybe just a couple of options here.