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January 26, 2013 at 8:01 PM

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Starbucks opens stores in Mumbai


ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Avani Saglani Davda is CEO of a joint venture between Starbucks and Tata, an Indian conglomerate that owns coffee and tea plantations, steel, chemical and hotel companies as well as Jaguar and Land Rover. The historic Gateway of India monument is the background.

Late last November, business reporter Melissa Allison and I arrived in India to work on a series of stories for The Seattle Times.

After recovering from our 22-hour flight, we set out to work on our first assignment. Seattle-based Starbucks had opened three stores in Mumbai last autumn, and we were visiting two of them in the south end of the city. (A fourth Mumbai location has launched since our visit.)

Before the assignment, I did some research and made a mental checklist of photographs to look for. I knew it was important to capture a sense of place -- both in the stores and their neighborhoods -- and to capture the customers and how they interacted in the new stores. We also planned to visit a chai vendor to show a more traditional beverage choice, and scope out an interesting Mumbai location to photograph one of the heads of Starbucks' India operations.

The two-story flagship store at Horniman Circle was decorated with luxurious drapes, ornate woodwork and vibrant photographs. Women wearing saris and salwar kameez floated in and out of the store. Customers included groups of business professionals, tourists -- even Russian sailors. It was impressive, yet oddly familiar.

After flying halfway around the globe, I ordered my favorite drink (a non-fat Caffé Misto) from a barista in a green apron. When the Fleet Foxes started to play on the speakers, a strange feeling washed over me. This pocket of coffee culture that seems so ordinary in my home city is a coveted, worldwide export. In the evenings, the stores were packed. Teenagers traveled an hour by train to visit a Starbucks. Some posed for pictures with the Starbucks mermaid like she was a celebrity.

For me, the most exciting part of visiting the stores was seeing evidence of a rising middle class in India. The average income in India is less than $2,000 a year. A cappuccino in Mumbai costs about $2.14. The middle class in this beautiful, diverse and sometimes difficult country is now able to afford luxuries that I take for granted.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Ankita Rao, left, Pooja Iyer, Rujutha Mohanand and Sonali Suvarna, all 16, take photos with the Starbucks logo outside the Horniman Circle Starbucks in south Mumbai. The teenagers took an hourlong train ride to go to Starbucks two days in a row.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

R.K. Krishna Kumar is vice chairman of Tata Global Beverages, an Indian conglomerate that is one of Asia's largest coffee producers.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Starbucks recently opened a store on the backside of the historic Taj Mahal Palace hotel in south Mumbai. The hotel has hosted lists of famous guests including Jacqueline Onassis and Mick Jagger, but it's better known as one the sites from the 2008 terrorist attacks.

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

A crowd waits in line at Starbucks' flagship store in Horniman Circle in south Mumbai. The store draws business people during the day, but brings in large crowds in the evenings.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

The Horniman Circle Starbucks is housed in a historic building within a chic, banking district in south Mumbai.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

V.G. Siddhartha is one of the richest men in India and founder and chairman of its largest coffee-shop chain, Cafe Coffee Day. He is not worried about Starbucks' entree to India, because of how fast the country's economy is growing. "I'm sure we [India] will produce some of the great brands in the world, and we want to be one of them," he said.

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Jyoti Sujan, left, her daughter Meena Sujan and son Harsh Sujan talk over drinks inside Starbucks' flagship store at Horniman Circle in south Mumbai. The two-level store is decorated with ornate Indian imagery.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

T. Gowda, a chai wallah, makes traditional Indian chai near the Bhuleshwar neighborhood in Mumbai. The tea is made with boiled milk and spices and served in small cups on the street.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

T. Gowda, a chai wallah, makes traditional Indian chai near the Bhuleshwar neighborhood in Mumbai. The tea is made with boiled milk and spices and served in small cups on the street.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A cow walks near the Starbucks store at Horniman Circle in south Mumbai.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Bimla Makhija, from left in pink, Farida Marker, Roshni Thadani and Vaidehi Mukhi talk at the Horniman Circle Starbucks store in Mumbai. The store is decorated in ornate Indian imagery, but plays music like the Fleet Foxes.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A vendor sells Starbucks shirts on the Colaba Causeway shopping strip in south Mumbai. The brand is considered trendy in India.

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Tirthankar Ganguly, from left in glasses, Jehangir Press, Hena Tolani and Shenaya Jambusarwala talk over lunch inside the Starbucks at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in south Mumbai. The group of colleagues works for the historic hotel.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Employees work inside the Starbucks at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in south Mumbai.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Kiran Bhandari, left and Satish Krishnamurthy, pink, talk inside of the Horniman Circle Starbucks in south Mumbai.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Traditionally, many Indians drink tea. However, coffee is becoming more common especially among India's young adults and the emerging middle class.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Srishti Sinha, left, and her boyfriend eat inside the Starbucks at Horniman Circle in Mumbai. Coffee shops are a popular place for many young adults to socialize.

ERIKA SCHULTZ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Gargi, 18, waits on a motorbike near the Starbucks in Horniman Circle Starbucks store in Mumbai. The historic neighborhood in Mumbai's financial district is known for its chic stores.

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