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Coffee Wins New Fans in Tea-Growing India

India has traditionally been a nation of tea-drinkers, but coffee is beginning to win new fans in the country. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the coffee-drinking culture is being promoted by hundreds of cafes opening in Indian cities.

The door of a popular coffee bar in central Delhi is seldom shut for long as a steady stream of customers walk in and out.

Many of them are youngsters - college students and young working people wanting to relax over a cup of coffee.

"Without being bothered, you can sit for a long time and have a cup of coffee, and chat, nobody bothers you here," said a girl.

"You can sit and you can talk and spend time here, and have a cup of coffee, hang out with your friends, nice time," added another customer.

"Basically the ambiance and the fact that you can sit here, chill out. They actually allow you to relax, that's the thing," a girl said. "I get to meet a lot of people here."

The coffee culture has been spreading rapidly in recent years as coffee bars began mushrooming in Indian towns and cities. It is a trend that has been repeated in some of the traditional tea-drinking cultures of East Asia, such as China and Hong Kong.

One of the most successful Indian coffee bar chains, Café Coffee Day, was started a company that owned coffee plantations and wanted to create a taste for the beverage in a nation addicted to tea.

The experiment has been a runaway success, and the coffee-drinking habit is growing in all parts of the country. The cafes have even made a foray into the northeastern city of Guwahati, the heart of one of India's main tea-growing regions.

Tea is grown in both the north and south, whereas coffee has traditionally been consumed only in the south, which is home to India's coffee plantations.

Simran Sablok, national marketing head of Café Coffee Day, says the cafes are a hit among young people, whom the booming economy has given money to spend.

"Youngsters were looking for a place where they could hang out, let down their hair, and have a good time, and the coffee was an excuse to bring them together. It made coffee far more accessible," said Sablok.

The results have been dramatic: domestic consumption of coffee last year increased by nearly one-third, from 60,000 to 80,000 tons.

That is good news for the coffee industry, which is recovering from a five-year crisis sparked by a price slump in international markets. Indian coffee growers, who export three-quarters of their produce, were hit hard at that time. Although the export market has now revived, the growers hope to make at least some of their profits in the home market in the future.

The success of cafes in India has attracted the attention of international chains. U.S. coffee giant Starbucks is exploring potential partners, and says it wants to enter the country by the end of the year.