Of first dates and frappes: People recall fond memories of Café Coffee Day

Many people say that with CCD, Siddhartha had given them a space to hang out with friends after school or make use of the free WiFi outside the office.
Of first dates and frappes: People recall fond memories of Café Coffee Day
Of first dates and frappes: People recall fond memories of Café Coffee Day

Before India could order a venti chai latte from Starbucks, before Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf became a common sight at the mall, and before Mocha’s Oreo-laden milkshakes became an after-college indulgence, there was Café Coffee Day. When VG Siddhartha’s iconic coffee chains first started in 1996, it was more than just the creator of Tropical Iceberg and Death by Chocolate – Coffee Day brought a long-awaited café culture to India.

After news broke of Siddhartha’s death Wednesday morning, political and business communities mourned the loss of the entrepreneurial leader, dubbed the “coffee king” of India.

But many also recognised that Siddhartha had given them something else – a space to hang out with friends after school or make use of the free WiFi outside the office; the site of first dates, first coffees and first loves; a refuge from the pressures of school, office and parents.

Friends, first dates and a love of coffee

Even before cafés became the norm in Indian cities, it wasn’t difficult to get a good cup of coffee. But the experience offered by chains like Adigas and Shanti Sagar were quick and easy affairs – steel tumblers of boiling hot coffee to be drunk as quickly as they’re served so you could make way for the next set of customers. India Coffee House and other older coffee shops were more relaxed settings, but had only a handful of locations in each city.

CCD, however, spread quickly and widely, and they were rarely in a hurry to kick you out.

Just like most of students who grew up in Thiruvananthapuram, Nithin, a final year engineering student in Kerala’s capital city, has countless memories of the city’s first ever CCD outlet in Kowdiar. “CCD is to me what the Indian Coffee House was to my father and his friends. Me and the boys used to just loiter in CCD after our tuition classes near the outlet. There might be around five or six guys and one of us would buy coffee and the rest of us used to sit around and chat for a really long time,” Nithin recalled.

Ann Mary John, a PR professional in Hyderabad, said she went to CCD for the first time with an old boyfriend. "I had coffee for the first time in my life because he wanted me to try, and surprisingly I liked it," she said. The boyfriend left, but the love for coffee stayed on.

CCD was also strategically located near schools and became a go-to spot for students. “When we were in school and our parents didn't approve of us going out too much, the most acceptable hangout was CCD. We would sit there for hours with a Tropical Iceberg and while away time, doing dares or gossiping about school. It was just the most sought-after chilling space of my generation,” said Kirtana Ponnuswamy, who studied at Bishop Cotton Girls’ School in Bengaluru.

What’s more, for young people who had to find a way around their parents’ strict rules, CCD became a happy compromise. “In our family, once engaged, the boy and girl are allowed to meet alone only at CCD, after parents’ approval. Be it arranged or love, CCD was a go-to place," said Jhankar, a PR professional.

Some took to Twitter to share memories of CCDs in their cities. “As friends in various businesses in our late 30s, we as a group catch up one Saturday afternoon every month in CCD. We have a good time. It's the only time we have for frolic with friends in the month,” tweeted Vinod Sreeramalu, from Chennai. 

From cities to the middle of nowhere, a welcome oasis

For TNM journalist Saritha S Balan, CCD still remains one of the few spaces for women to sit alone for hours in Thiruvananthapuram, which still lacks the kind of cosmopolitan development seen in other south Indian cities.

“CCD is an exception. The staff or even the customers there don’t care if it is a man or woman sitting, or for how many hours. You can order a coffee, work on your laptop, or chat with friends on the phone. No one will stare at you. Even in 2019, only a few places offer this in Thiruvananthapuram,” she said.

And that experience wasn’t just limited to cities, but highways as well. Independent journalist Subha J Rao recalled, “Once we were driving from Salem to Shivamogga and took the village route. There was a big hotel en route but the restroom was terrible. Then as we were driving past the village of Arsikere, suddenly this CCD popped up like an oasis. A biker group was just exiting the place when we walked in. Of all things, we had hot crispy parathas (from a frozen pack but so good), coffee and some of those cheese corn balls they used to sell. That was my son’s favourite. We used to hit CCD just to buy those cheese corn balls.”

Talking about why spotting a CCD on the highway was a joy, she said, “What I’ll remember with gratitude, as will many other women, is that it meant decent restrooms, a rarity till then.”

Good service and an even better cup of coffee

If you grew up in an Indian city in the 2000s, it’s likely that you had a favourite CCD order or that your first taste of cold coffee came in the form of Coffee Day’s signature Tropical Iceberg.

"It's one of my favourites for coffee since Barista cut down on their branches. My favourite used to be the chocolate shots but they were stopped a while ago. My boyfriend’s favourite is caramel cappuccino,” Madhav P, a business development professional in Hyderabad, said.

Since opening in 1996, CCD has grown to include roughly 1,700 cafes, around 48,000 vending machines, 532 kiosks and 403 ground coffee-selling outlets.

Subha added, “At home, we always use zero-chicory coffee powder sourced from Fresh and Ground, a CCD enterprise. The seeds are chosen and ground in front of our eyes, to our requirement. Coarse or fine.”

Jhankar, a frequent customer at the coffee chain, said that the best thing about CCD is their consistency in taste and quality. “It has been a go-to place when you are new to the city or in a hurry to meet an acquaintance, date, or even for office meetings. The staff across have always been cordial. You know nothing will go wrong while you are there.”

With inputs from Korah Abraham, Saritha S Balan, Priyanka Thirumurthy and Mithun MK.

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