India is known for its age-old love affair with tea, yet it seems there now may be a new national drink of choice – coffee. The country has been inundated with Starbucks stores since 2012, in what has been dubbed "the fastest growing market in Starbucks history."
On September 28, the Starbucks Coffee Championship 2016 was held at the Starbucks located in Mumbai's historical Elphinstone Building. Six finalists battled it out to take home the coveted position, however the atmosphere was far from tense. Instead, employees and civilians alike cheered on each barista with vigour, the room full of colour and life.
Sumitro Ghosh, the CEO of Tata Starbucks, said that he was proud of all the effort that went into the day. The Coffee Championship is an initiative that dates back to Starbucks' early days and, following a long hiatus, was revived worldwide last year.
“This is the second official year. Some countries kept it going but it’s something we used to do in the US a long time ago when we first began," Mr Ghosh explained.
Sumitro Ghosh, CEO of Tata Starbucks, addresses the crowd at the Starbucks Coffee Championship 2016
“This was the culmination of probably two months of competitions, where each store would have a competition for people who wanted to compete as a Barista Champion. They’d have a winner, and then whoever the winner came up [as] from each store would compete, and then there became one from each region – we have a north, south and west.
"Two of the top winners from each region competed here today. This is a title they have for a year which comes with some responsibility. There will then be a China Asia Pacific competition that each country will participate in," Mr Ghosh said.
Unlike in other countries, Starbucks India is co-owned by the nationally adored Tata Group.
“It’s a 50/50 joint venture between Starbucks and Tata, and if you know anything about Tata, it’s the number one company in India. It’s an unbelievable marriage between two like minded companies with value systems that are very similar," Mr Ghosh said.
Mr Ghosh also explained the origin of the word partners. "Partners are what we call employees at Starbucks. They’re partners, not just employees."
He said that using this term was one of the steps Starbucks has taken to making their employees feel just as valuable as the company knows them to be. All of the participants in the Starbucks Barista Championship 2016 were partners, employed at various locations across India.
Spectators look on from the balcony, watching the action unfold below them
The day consisted of rounds that tested the competitors' creativity, presentation, speed and coffee knowledge. Hundreds of spectators filtered in and out of the store, observing the entrants as they skilfully made latte after latte, all the while chatting eagerly to their customers.
Following the practical tests, the competitors prepared themselves for a question and answer session. As they nervously waited side-stage, a group of employees entertained the room with a dance number, a performance surely unique to the Indian championships.