Espresso Yourself Brewing up a storm at the Starbucks Coffee Championship, held in Mumbai, India

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.

A troupe of employees-turned-performers from the Fort Starbucks store entertain the crowd with a choreographed dance routine

Choreographed by workers at the Fort store and set to traditional music, the involved employees said that they would practice after they had finished up their long shifts each day.

After all of the fun and games had concluded, the question and answer session saw the three finalists - Monica Kithodya, Atul Inderyas and Geetu Mohnani - fight for the coveted first place spot. They passionately pleaded their cases to great applause from the growing crowd of onlookers.

From left to right: Geetu Mohnani, Monica Kithodya and Atul Inderyas

Ultimately, Mohnani, from New Delhi, took out the title. A store manager and Coffee Master at Starbucks Delhi, Mohnani competed last year but unfortunately did not take home the title. This year, however, she was absolutely ecstatic as her name was announced as the victor.

"I participated last year as well and I didn’t win but I learned a lot. I just had to come here and represent India at the international level. It’s my dream and it’s come true now," Mohnani said.

"[I've been] a partner for two years. I’m the store manager, but I work as a barista every day, and I keep working on the skills and this and that.

Geetu Mohnani from New Delhi, India's Starbucks Barista Champion for 2016

“My favourite part was the coffee discussion, because I usually get very nervous…when I see these lights and mics. I think I did really well and achieved my expectations."

Mohnani will go on to represent India at the international level in February for the Asian Championships.

"This will be my first journey abroad, outside of India, so I’m super excited for that. It’s still not decided but it’ll probably be Thailand…last year it was Hong Kong, so we'll see what the country is this time."

Mohnani also spoke fondly of this year's runner up, Monica Kithodya. The two work together every day at the New Delhi Starbucks store.

Mohnani and Kithodya hug after Mohnani's win is announced

"The fact that both first and second are from the same region, we’re from Delhi only, and she’s my junior. We both prepared together, it wasn’t that she hid something from me, there was no jealousy factor. We’re really happy, we both won," she said.

As the day of festivities came to a close, Mr Ghosh spoke highly of this year's participants and all of the involved partners.

"The passion from the partners, the enthusiasm, their knowledge of coffee origin, all the things that make a huge difference in what we are all about, came through in each and every partner," he said. "We're very, very proud of you."

The Starbucks Coffee Championship will return in 2017 for its third consecutive year. For more information on Tata-Starbucks or the Starbucks Coffee Championship, visit their website or Facebook page.

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Charlotte Borland
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