VG Siddhartha changed the way it was consumed. His Café Coffee Day (CCD) outlets transformed the simple brew into a lifestyle from a drink gulped in a Darshini. It also set off imitations, some of them successful, and spawned coffee roasters catering to the discerning tastes.
It was 1996. Bengaluru was still Bangalore. And the pensioner’s paradise was at the precipice of the IT boom. Café Coffee Day (CCD) opened its first outlet on Brigade Road, the only high street then.
With its hole-in-the-wall Udupi hotels and the ubiquitous Indian Coffee House, coffee needed no introduction to Bengalureans. But CCD changed the way an entire generation of Bengalureans consumed coffee.
Unlike the Darshinis, where hot filter coffee is hurriedly gulped, CCD created an atmosphere of leisure — typifying old Bengaluru’s laid-back vibe — and introduced tastes that can only be acquired. Sipping the brew at a CCD outlet became an excuse for a business meeting, a date or just to hang out.
The idea to provide customers with high-speed internet at its ‘cyber café’, the first of its kind in India, made CCD an instant hit with foreigners and the IT sector employees. A cup of coffee and an hour of internet surfing cost Rs 100 at that time.
CCD outlets have also been a favourite spot for many tech startups for a variety of reasons, primarily because of their inability to rent office space. Kumar Rangarajan, founder of Little Eye Labs, which was acquired by Facebook five years ago, would work out of different CCD outlets in Bengaluru before his team moved to the startup’s own office.
CCD set off a chain reaction. It inspired several others to bring in their own versions, some of which have become success stories in their own right.
Kalmane Coffee — which is now a recognisable presence for coffee lovers — graduated from selling blends in neighbourhood stores to selling fresh ground coffee in little kiosks in malls and standalone outlets. Like CCD, it also started from a 125-year-old coffee plantation in Chikkamagalur.
Hatti Kaapi, another success story, was mentored by CCD founder VG Siddhartha. Over filter coffee, Hatti Kaapi’s managing partner US Mahendra made notes while Siddhartha advised him on business competition, market size and challenges. “He would visit the store, sit with me and discuss ideas. India being a tea nation, coffee didn’t get its due until Siddhartha came along. He was the mentor we all needed,” Mahendra said.
Hatti Kaapi started out with a single store in Gandhi Bazaar in 2009, serving 300 cups of coffee. It has grown to 80 stores across the country, selling 82 lakh cups a day. “While we focus on south Indian filter coffee and not cappuccinos and lattes, the trend of young people stepping out for a cup of coffee with friends is all thanks to CCD. Siddhartha used local coffee beans to make western coffee beverages.”
Bengaluru is currently seeing a wave of specialty coffee shops opening: from Coffee Mechanics in HBR Layout, The Roastery in Kalyan Nagar to Blue Tokai in Koramangala. All of them cashed in on the tastes and atmosphere CCD had gotten coffee-seekers used to.
Ganga Prabhakar, co-founder of Coffee Mechanics, said that CCD should be credited for not just changing the way youngsters consumed coffee, but also for training thousands of baristas in the art of coffee making at the company’s vocational training centre.
“Most of the baristas have trained in this institution. Siddhartha educated people on the art of coffee making and drinking, both. There wouldn’t be these many players in the market if not for him and his coffee chain,” she says.
But are too many competitors problematic? “No, it keeps us on our toes to constantly innovate. There’s always space for competition. Unlike your regular coffee shops, we focus on the story behind the coffee. It’s all about the origin of the beans and alternative brewing techniques. It’s kind of like wine.”
And surely, the new crop of speciality coffee brewers has taken the game forward. From espressos, lattes and cappuccinos — which were alien before CCD arrived — the new set of coffee-makers are into French pour-overs, nitro coffee and cold brews.
Blue Tokai roasters, which started in New Delhi in 2013 delivering fresh ground coffee powder, now has nine estates and cafes attached to its roasteries across cities. The cafés have large windows designed specifically to allow people to observe coffee roasters at work. Speciality outlets such as these spun off another venture — coffee brewing workshops and roastery tours.
Running parallel to these coffee cafes, Bengaluru’s love for the classic filter coffee continues. Said historian Udaya Kumar: “Out-of-home consumption may have increased, but you will still find a traditional percolator in the homes of youngsters, too. Some Darshanis have shut down, small restaurants are running losses, but we cannot ascribe this to the boom of cafes. There are many socioeconomic factors for this loss.”
Vikram Maiya, partner at MTR, agreed. The boom of coffee shops following CCD’s success did not affect coffee consumption at his family’s iconic eatery. “Our customers are loyalists and want simple, traditional coffee. It was the college crowd that got pulled to the coffee shops and now, they have become more discerning about coffee; their choices have become more informed. Coffee is no longer just a beverage, it’s a lifestyle.”
Retired IAS officer Ramachandra M, 62, recalls his first brush with the “modern” coffee when his son took him to a CCD outlet on MG Road years ago. “I wasn’t a fan,” he said, remembering gawking at the price of a cappuccino. “I still go to Indian Coffee House to catch up with old pals. But I guess that’s how the younger generation feels about these new coffee shops. My niece is a regular at coffee shops, but never have I seen her drink coffee at home.”
The opinions of Gen Z though are starkly different, given that 20-year-olds don’t know a world without a CCD. Sakshi Dani, a student of literature at Christ University, recalled saving up for two months to hang out with friends at the coffee shop. “It was such a cool thing to do back then. We used to struggle to pronounce mochaccino,” she said with a laugh.
Coffee shops also became the favourite haunts for couples entering an arranged marriage, to meet for some alone time. Software engineer Amitha Krishna was one of them. “The CCD in Mysuru is where I met my husband over getting-to-know -each-other dates. I wonder where people met before these coffee shops came around!”
Remembering VG Siddhartha, The Man Who Introduced Coffee Culture In India
A Tragic Loss
31 Jul, 2019
The disappearance and demise of Café Coffee Day owner VG Siddhartha left the country in shock. On Saturday, the coffee tycoon wrote a letter addressed to his ‘Coffee Day’ family where he apologised to them for failing as an entrepreneur and opened up about the pressure he had been dealing with. On Monday he went missing from Mangaluru, and 36 hours later his body was recovered by the fishermen in the city’s Hoige Bazaar.The tragic episode saw tributes pour in for the billionaire businessman, whose ‘A lot can happen over a coffee’ idea brought enthusiasts closer and sparked the trend of coffee dates in India.Despite running a mega empire, the camera-shy 60-year-old tycoon preferred to stay away from the limelight and mostly maintained a low-profile.
Back To The Beginning
31 Jul, 2019
Siddhartha was born in 1960 to coffee plantation owner Gangaiah Hegde in Chikkamagalur, Karnataka (his family has been in the coffee business for almost 130 years). Growing up in the district known for its coffee estates, the coffee baron completed his master’s degree from Mangalore University.During the early ’90s, as a budding entrepreneur, he tied the knot with Malavika Hegde, the daughter of former Chief Minister of Karnataka, Indian Minister for External Affairs and Governor of Maharashtra, S.M. Krishna. They had two sons, Ishan and Amarthya.
31 Jul, 2019
He began his career at the age of 24 as a management trainee with JM Financial Limited in Mumbai, where he worked from 1983 to ’84. In the mid ’80s, he invested his earnings in the stock market on Chikkamagaluru’s coffee plantations, and in 1984, bought an investment banking and brokering firm, Sivan Securities – that was later renamed to Way2Wealth Securities Ltd.A few years later, using the money given to him by his father as capital, he bought a coffee unit in Hassan, and founded Amalgamated Bean Company Trading in 1993. Two years later, it became India’s largest green coffee exporter. Siddhartha grew coffee, sold and exported tonnes of it, earning millions from the business. The owner of 12,000 acres of coffee plantation, he also had 200 exclusive retail outlets selling his Coffee Day powder all over South India.In 1996, he set up his first coffee outlet, naming it Café Coffee Day. The first CCD opened its doors at Brigade Road in Bengaluru.Twenty-three years later, the brand now runs over 1700 outlets, making CCD the country’s largest retail coffee chain. It also operates cafes in Austria, Malaysia, and Egypt.With a burgeoning business to bank on, Siddhartha earned a spot on the 2014 Forbes India’s Rich list. However, a year later, he dropped off.
31 Jul, 2019
From flourishing as an investment banker to becoming the pioneer of café trend in India, Siddhartha established himself as a business tycoon. However, there was more to his resume than just coffee.In 1999, he bought a 6.6% stake in an IT startup named Mindree for Rs 44 crore. He also forayed into the real estate sector with Tanglin Retail Realty Developments in 2007. Four years later, he decided to jump into the furniture-making business, acquiring 1.85 million hectares of Amazon forestland on lease from the Republic of Guyana to source timber for his business. Named after his estate in Chickamagalur, The Dark Forest Furniture Company (Daffco) initially planned on supplying wood for furniture at CCD outlets. Till date, the brand continues to be a captive unit only catering to CCD outlets.
31 Jul, 2019
2017 proved to be the start of a professionally difficult time for Siddhartha, who was then also attending to his 94-year-old father at the time. The coffee tycoon found himself caught in the middle of a tax evasion case. 20 properties owned by him, in Bengaluru, Chennai, Chikkamagaluru and Mumbai, were subjected to a raid by the income tax department.