"I remember the first time I ever had coffee at Cafe Coffee Day (CCD). It was back in the early 2000s. My brother had got his first job at Bangalore, and it was his treat... The place looked so fancy to me as a schoolboy. I felt like I was in a coffee shop in a Hollywood film," recalled a friend, as we discussed the disturbing news of VG Siddhartha's disappearance that had been flooding our Twitter timelines since yesterday. This morning, Siddhartha's body was recovered from Netravati river, ending any glimmer of hope for the entrepreneur's safe return.
In the last 23 years, CCD has managed to open in 28 states and currently has 1,843 outlets (as of July 2019) across India. In the past two decades -- before the arrival of big chains like Starbucks --- CCD had also managed to familiarise the Indian middle class with the idea of western coffee shops and guided a nation, where the household choice of beverage is tea (cha, or chai) to embrace coffee wholeheartedly.
"When I went to CCD for the first time I didn't even know that coffee could be made in so many different ways. I remember ordering an espresso, and they brought me this ugly black coffee, which I hated, but had to gulp down because I had paid a lot of money for it," recalled Debjani Sain, a Senior Associate HR, at a Banglore based company. " I later realised what cappuccino and latte were, and also discovered what kind of coffee I liked at CCD." she added.
"I had moved to Kolkata to do my graduation back then. In a big city, when you are sharing a room with other girls in a paying guest, you don't always get the space you want. I liked CCD for that too. I could just order one thing and sit with it for hours, and no one would tell me to leave, or disturb me. That space and me-time were very important to me," added Sain.
The Aspirational Cuppa
As youngsters, we always aspired to be in coffee shops that we saw in shows like Friends or go on coffee dates as characters in films like You've Got Mail did and CCD was the first cafe to provide us with that kind of space, pointed out Abhishek Pillai, a Consultant in Mumbai."Back then, cafes were not that popular in India. In fact, I had this image of CCD as one of the premium cafes, which I later realised that it wasn't," he laughed.
Despite being popular among youngsters, it was still slightly out-of-reach for most kids who came from a middle-class background, which made CCD's cuppas very aspirational. "I used to save pocket money in college days to drink hot chocolate from CCD." recalled Poulami Mukhopadhyay, Senior Associate of Branded Content (editorial) for a big media house in Mumbai. "For me, CCD was like the modern coffee house in Kolkata, without the grumpy waiters. My best friend and I used to spend hours post-college at the nearby CCD," she added.
Part of childhood nostalgia
CCD, from the day it opened, has had a special appeal to the youngsters and is a part of childhood, and college days nostalgia for many of us. "The first time I went there, I thought holy sh*t, it's expensive" remembered Satyajit Bagchi, a marketing executive at a Pharmaceutical MNC. Back then Bagchi was a student, and CCD costed more than he could afford, but it soon became a regular haunt for him and his friends because of the ambience. "My most favourite memory is sipping a hot cup of coffee on a rainy day in the Lake CCD, Kolkata," remembered Bagchi.
CCD also became the most convenient spot for friends to gather after school or college, and for birthday parties to happen. Kriti Chaturvedi, a PR professional based out of Mumbai recalls that her first time at CCD was for a friend's birthday. "My friend was a shy person so we thought that it would be a good idea to celebrate his birthday in a small gathering, which is why we picked Cafe Coffee Day," she said.
Fiona Poojara, a teacher at an international school in Mumbai, still remembers what CCD beverage was her favourite as a teenager. "Growing up we used to stop to have the tropical iceberg coffee topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Those were the days when calories didn’t matter and one could indulge without a worry in the world!" she added.
In the past two decades, we have all visited CCD at some point or the other, or at least picked up a cuppa, when we desperately needed a dose of caffeine but didn't have time to sit and sip. Ru Chatterji, a Bangalore based marketing professional, recalls that the CCD at the City Center mall in Salt Lake, Kolkata was the venue of her birthday party in 2004, when she was in class 11. "It is still my favourite CCD, considering it had such a nice outdoor seating," she added.
As the board members of the parent company of CCD decide how to move forward, and the family members of Siddhartha and the staffs of CCD cope with their grief, the generation which grew up with the outlets serving heart-shaped frothy cuppas express their gratitude to the 'coffee king' for always providing a meeting place for friends, and a spot for celebrations with caffeinated beverages.