Someone who is planning to open a coffee shop at Bandra hesitantly wrote in to me a few days back. She wanted to know about what I like in, and look for in, coffee shops. This set me thinking. We spend a lot of time at Coffee Shops actually. As do our friends. I have put down here what I wrote to her. Would love to know what do you look for in coffee shops, favourite places, stories, from Mumbai and across the world. So do write in. After all a coffee shop is often all about conversations.
"Saw your E yesterday. Didn't want to shoot off a few lines in a hurry. Of course you can write in :0 That's why I put up the i d. Love the chats that followed after I put it up.
I am excited to hear about your plans to open a coffee shop at Bandra. My wife and I, and our friends, are 'coffee house people'. Well do factor in the fact that we are in our mid 30s and probably have less time and things to do than we did a decade back. My feedback would reflect our demographic.
So what do we like in coffee shops?
I guess a bit of this is defined by the image of Central Perk in FRIENDS. Just as Pop Tates in Archies defined the 'good life' for a number of us while growing up in pre-liberalisation India.
As you mentioned, Bandra has quite a few favourites. Gloria Jean's as you said. The jury is divided on Theobroma, the other place that you mentioned. Then there is Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. And you did not mention Candies!!! :) Candies can be quite maddening in the evening and afternoons but is beautiful in the mornings. It's a bit like a marriage. you need to work on it :)
So coming back to what works for us in cafes? Sink in sofas. Quirky furniture. Odds and ends unlike the military precision of Baristas and the CCDs. Muted colours. Though the Goan Poruguese blue of Candies is quite cheerful too. Good coffee. Hot. Not too expensive. Rs 50 - 100 is a ball park range. Light music, if at all. Not M J blaring at you. Bandra'ites will know what I am talking about.
The place should be neat and clean. There is nothing more bugging than stained sofas, plates with unfinished food on empty tables, food on the floor. A nice Starbucks like aroma of coffee. Air conditioning that works. A clean loo. Gloria loses out on this as they do not have a loo. Wi fi. Magazines, newspapers... off beat stuff beyond Mid Day and Femina. Some individual seats, like the bar stools in Candies, for crowded moments. A sit out for smokers I guess.
The quality of staff is very important. For some reason, a number of us in urban India, especially in coffee shops and restaurants, speak to the staff in English. So you need at least one person who can speak properly to guests. AND knows the menu. There is nothing more irritating than coming across a waiter who can't answer your questions about the menu. Most coffee shop folks tend to be regulars and it makes a world of difference when the waiters begin to recognise you, welcome you with a genuine smile and know your preferences. They should not make you feel rushed. Which, honestly, doesn't happen in any of the coffee shops we go to.
When it comes to food, quality is more important than range. Fresh stuff versus stale packed sandwiches. Ideal would be if you have a fresh counter the way CBTL, Bagel Shop or Candies (Hot breakfast) have. Sandwiches, omelettes, some small bites. Candies is the only one which has decent puffs, quiches, chops and other salty munches. CBTL scores on their fresh sandwiches, even though more expensive. You need some lettuce stuff and herbal teas for the salad crowd. And some tempting desserts for those who like to believe in La Dolce Vita. I don't know about others but I like the bite of something sweet with my coffee. Candies won my heart with the tiny petite fours, cup cakes and tarts that they give complimentary with their coffee. Good cookies. The only folks to have good cookeis are Cookie Man. And they aren't a coffee shop. Most other places falter on cookies. How can you have coffee without cookies!!!?? Don't get me started on this.
In other words a mix of Candies for food and chirpiness, Gloria's for coffee and cosiness and Coffee Bean for all four, though at a slightly higher price.So all the best and look forward to your cafe. We are running out of tables at Coffee Shops in Bandra"