Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

Costa Coffee woos Indian palates

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Manju Malhi
Manju Malhi is trying to spice up the Costa menu

The UK's Costa Coffee chain has sent a British celebrity chef to the Indian capital, Delhi, to devise spicy snacks as accompaniments to its cappuccinos and lattes.

Manju Malhi is working on a new menu which is set to be introduced over the next couple of months.

Costa launched in India nearly five years ago and today it has 44 outlets across Indian cities.

Traditionally a nation of tea drinkers, India has seen hundreds of coffee bars come up in the past decade.

And over the past few years, coffee has shifted from being the drink of choice in southern India to a beverage with a national presence.

Different market

On a weekend evening, the Costa outlet in south Delhi's upmarket Greater Kailash II area is packed.

The clientele comprises professionals, young students and couples.

The staff is busy serving steaming cappuccinos, lattes and mochas and many customers can be seen delving into warm chocolate cake soaked in hot chocolate sauce and chicken tikka sandwiches.

Costa Coffee food counter
The new menu will also have spicier cakes

"Food is big in India," Ms Malhi says. "Research shows that there are more chances that a person buying coffee in India will buy food than in the UK."

In the UK, Costa doesn't generally offer spicy bites alongside its beverages - but in India the market is different.

One of the most popular savoury items on the menu of Cafe Coffee Day (India's market leader in coffee bars) is matar samosa - savoury pastry filled with spicy peas.

McDonalds caters to Indian taste buds with its aloo tikki (potato cutlet) burger.

At Costa too, their hottest selling items are chicken tikka sandwich and paneer tikka sandwich.

To thrive in such a market, the coffee chain has roped in Ms Malhi.

"The Indian palate is very different from the rest of the world. And we took on Ms Malhi because she has an understanding of both worlds," a senior manager at Costa Coffee India told the BBC.

Ms Malhi says the job is a real challenge: "It's not just like hiring a chef for his or her flamboyance, it's a lot more than that."

She is working on various ideas. She is developing sandwiches; mostly chicken-based for non-vegetarians and different varieties of vegetarian sandwiches.

"In UK, the choice is generally limited to cheese and salad leaves, but for the Indian market, I'm looking at all sorts of options," she says.

She is also trying to introduce different Indian spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom in cakes to give them an Indian twist.

Traditionally coffee has been the drink of choice in southern India where it is paired with the traditional cuisine of idlis and dosas.

"The south Indian coffee is strong, it's full-bodied coffee, like Americano with a dash of milk, which can compete with the strong flavours of south Indian food," Ms Malhi says.

But coffees served at Costa are "more creamy and like desert coffees, so they don't work with very hot or spicy food", Ms Malhi says.

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