Coffee With Rajat, Led To Conversation
Image Credit: Rajat Agrawal, CEO, Barista

As the world sets to celebrate International Coffee Day, we in India looked at a few names which have created a quench for coffees in the country. Incepted in 2000, under the name Barista Coffee Company Limited, this brand came across as a suitable knowledge centre to understand the Indian coffee market and its various facets. It came into existence intending to deliver a truly Italian coffee experience to the customers with a warm, sociable and peaceful environment. One of the country's leading chains of espresso bars and cafés, it operates more than 300 outlets in India and Sri Lanka across 95 plus cities. 

We got in touch with Rajat Agrawal, CEO of this brand. This creative, enthusiastic, and dynamic man's journey with the said brand started as Vice President-Corporate Finance and Strategy. Later in his career trajectory, he rose to the position of COO and was recently appointed as CEO. 

He wishes to leverage his 15 years of experience to grow the brand exponentially, keeping in mind guest experiences and industry trends. In addition, he is continually on the quest for new and exciting ideas for expansion and creating exclusive coffee experiences. With his vast knowledge about this caffeine drink and its myriad dynamics, we tried to understand what it takes to brew passion for it. 

Do you know?: Wikipedia describes a barista; is a person, usually a coffeehouse employee, who prepares and serves espresso-based coffee drinks.

Q. How did the idea of setting up a coffee shop appear, especially in a country with one of the highest tea consumers? How was the response? 

Barista started in the year 2000, and it is the pioneer of café culture in India. The coffee shop culture was always big in western countries, and that niche was identified and explored by us, leading to its genesis. India even today consumes less than 100 gm of coffee per capita/annum vs 10-12kg per capita/annum in matured markets.

Q. What changes or trends do you observe among the growing coffee-loving population? 

Hot chocolate

Consumers today are open to experimentation with their beverages. Though the high sellers still remain the same, the trend on new-aged coffee is encouraging and fast catching up. Our speciality blends are high in demand, and there are many frequenters for the same. Consumers today are willing to try freshly brewed coffees. We observe many patrons moving away from dairy and wanting to have their coffee with almond/oat milk options. We are the only one to start Coffee Pots for our online consumers to give them an excellent experience in the comfort of their home/office.

 Q. How do the millennials and GenZ like their coffee? 

In the current era, there is a whole lot of education, and consumers are aware of their choices. They are willing to try exquisite coffees and flavours like Hazelnut, Caramel, etc. French Press and Pour over coffees are also in demand.

Q. Coffee shops have turned into a place for casual to official meetings in India. What was the driving factor, and how do you see its future? 

A cosy cafe set up in Goa

Cafes today have moved from being just lifestyle products. They have become utility products in the current era enabling interactions. A few reasons I can see for a significant shift are digitisation making consumers more learned and aware, Ease of travel, both inbound and outbound helping in multicultural conversations/interactions and increased eat-out ratio and spends. We see the café chain market growing at a healthy CAGR of 8-9% from the current market opportunity, which is currently pegged at INR 4.5k crores.

Q. What is the USP of your brand? 

It is the greatest cuppa served with 100% Arabica coffee made by our trained Baristas across 330 stores spread in 100+ cities. This gives our consumers a seamless experience across the country and in Sri Lanka.

A barista preparing coffee

Q. How do you curate the menu and keep it fresh and timely?

 R&D and new product development are ongoing activities in our ecosystem. Our F&B calendar is prepared keeping in mind both global and Indian trends and planned across the year basis of the season.

Assorted snacks

Q. Is there any beverage or dish that you have innovated with coffee? 

Innovation is the cornerstone of success. We keep innovating around coffee. From a wide variety of Frappes, which continue to be our hostellers apart from our classics, we have also launched a few drinks like Chai Latte, Saffron Frappe, Holiday Spice and Turmeric Latte.    

Q. What is your poison: coffee or tea?

 Coffee, without a doubt.

 Q. How do you see the future of coffee as an ingredient in culinary art? 

Latte arts have always been exciting for all age groups. Further, we are also organising a Coffee & Paint event, the first leg planned in our store in Goa, where we get our guests to paint on a canvas using espresso (coffee extract).

Latte art on coffee

Q. Are you also planning to take homegrown beans in your coffee-making process?

 Our beans are entirely indigenous and sourced from plantations in India.

Q. With international coffee brands foraying into the Indian market, do you feel it is a competition? What are your strategies to stay afloat or ahead?

 The market is growing, and so is the competition. We take this as a way to keep us motivated and bettering our best. Our agenda has been the perfect cuppa and perfect guest service. In all our ethos, we consider our consumers as ‘Guests’ and not ‘Customers’, that’s the big differentiator for us. This mantra has been deep-rooted in our ecosystem. 

Q.Is anything special for International Coffee Day? 

Coffee rules and we celebrate this with our baristas with an endeavour to serve each cuppa with a perfect experience and smile. Further, as our responsibility towards the environment, we are also distributing Coffee Ground to our guests, which helps in the upkeep of the plants and further enforces our pledge to go green and make the environment sustainable.