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Converting Tea-Lovers Into Coffee-Lovers

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The Indian-subcontinent, in particular Pakistan, has been a tea-drinking country since before the British made tea popular in the West. Tea is consumed throughout the day and often served accompanied with samosas and various sweets like golabjamins or cookies. Most offices have chai wallas or tea boys who serve workers multiple cups of tea during the course of the working day.

But all of that is changing. In the last few years Pakistan has seen an explosion in coffee lounges and cafes. Some are like your traditional Starbucks just serving coffee and snacks, while others are more all-inclusive cafes, serving coffee accompanied by proper meals.

Umer Qayyum, 40 and owner of Coffee Tea and Company in Lahore, says "the idea of a coffee shop wasn't a new concept, it just wasn't here."

Qayyam and his wife started what was originally a deli and bakery in 2003. They served basic coffee and tea. As they grew they added to their menu, eventually selling frappacino-like drinks in flavors such as cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and hazelnut. They also sell Starbucks Coffee that they get via a supply chain, and import a special Italian brand and Jamaican Blue Coffee. CTC, as its known locally, also sells pastries, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They also sell wrapped sandwiches to go and A&W Root Beer.

He says the business has been profitable, despite formal advertising; just relying on word of mouth and quality food. Many Pakistani restaurants fail in the latter category.

He says Pakistani restaurants "want huge margins, but don't know anything about food or what type of food to serve."

Up until two years ago, CTC sold more chai, the traditional plain or cardamom-laced tea, than coffee.

He believes his restaurant hasn't really changed Lahori society on the whole, just made people go out in a more informal environment.

"It's encouraged people to be more social," he says.

While Lahore's coffee scene is growing, Karachi's, Pakistan's largest city, has exploded. According to KarachiSnob.com, a directory of the city's finest businesses, there are currently 31 different coffee companies.

One of the most popular is Elbow Room which opened in August 2007. The Elbow Room consists of four main areas, one of which is the coffee lounge which has its own entrance, according to co-owner Tanya Adam Khan. After getting a degree in Hotel Management and Business Administration from Ireland, she and her husband and co-owner, Shehzad Tareen, wanted to come back to Pakistan and open a place of their own.

"[We wanted to] provide [customers] with a menu which was affordable yet offered everything that they would want on a lunch out with friends and colleagues. The coffee room was another facility which was given considering the needs business people have," she said via email.

The Elbow Room, like many other coffee lounges in Karachi, has events and live entertainment, according to its webpage on KarachiSnob.com.

Khan says the events range "from wedding receptions, private parties to corporate dinners."

The Elbow Room is located off I. I. Chundrigar Road, the main financial area of Karachi, which makes the lounge a hotspot with the business crowd and lawyers, according to Khan.

"We have developed the trend amongst them of going out for coffee with their colleagues and friends or simply holding a meeting there with their clients," she says.

The Elbow Room doesn't sell many fancy coffees, but rather sticks to the basics like espressos and mochas.

"Our regular coffee is what I think is the most liked," Khan says.

While Pakistan has many independent coffee shops, it has few international chains.

With the music thumping with latest hits, dark wood floors, mod mauve, orange, and green couches, and wall exposing brick, it feels like being in a Starbucks. But this isn't Starbucks; it's the international coffee chain, Gloria Jeans. And it's right here in Lahore, just down the road from its major competition, CTC.

Gloria Jean's Pakistan, which opened in November 2007, currently has four stores throughout Pakistan, two each in Lahore and Islamabad, according to its website.

How did Gloria Jean's end up in Pakistan of all places? It started with a grocery store in Australia, says Ayesha Ali Khan, Head of Marketing for Gloria Jean's Pakistan.

"My [uncle] has a chain of grocery stores by the name of IGA. Gloria Jean's approached them to stock their coffee on their shelves. That's how it started. My [cousin] approached them about [opening a store in] Pakistan. They were interested in coming into India and Pakistan together. It took a lot of convincing from our part. As long as we presented a market to them and did our homework, they were happy."

Gloria Jean's is very different from other coffee shops as everything they sell is international.

"We have our own beans, which are specially prepared by Gloria Jean's Australia. Everything is imported, our cup, our spoon, our fork. This is the only international operating coffee house [in Pakistan]. Our staff is trained by people coming in from Australia," says Ali Khan.

They have their own take on traditional drinks like lattes. One of the more tempting ones is a Chocolate Macadamia Latte, which combines hot chocolate and espresso with macadamia nut flavor. Their frozen drinks are just as interesting. They also think outside the box when it comes to frozen and blended drinks. The Frozen Coconut White Chocolate drink blends coconut, coconut syrup, white chocolate and milk together with ice.

Gloria Jean's clientele is mostly upper-class to upper-middle class, with a focus on young executives, college students, families, and foreigners.

"A lot of foreigners come in [to Gloria Jean's]. Many of them say, 'it's the closest thing to Starbucks'," says Ali Khan.

Huma (she did not give her last name), 22, is from Florida, but is studying medicine in Pakistan because it's cheaper. She comes to Gloria Jean's to study.

"I come here because we don't have libraries and good study atmospheres. I like the free Wi-Fi and no smoking [environment], she says.

Huma doesn't like the other coffee shops like CTC because it's too crowded.

"It's not a good study environment," she says.

When Ali Khan and her family opened Gloria Jean's they were worried about how the tea-loving people of Pakistan would react.

"Within the first month we established ourselves; obviously people come for the coffee because it is the best in town. I think over the years we've had a tremendous response," she says.

Although the coffee culture was around when Gloria Jean's opened, Ali Khan believes her coffee shop helped give it one final push.

"People come and they come solely for the purpose of socializing and coffee, where food is secondary. Prior to that you went to a place for the food was first. But over here you come for the coffee, not for the food," Ali Khan says.

Coffee shops and lounges in Pakistan provide a place for people, especially the younger generation, to gather and socialize. It's been difficult at times to convert the tea-loving nation into a coffee-loving one, but as Ali Khan says, "Coffee is something which is globally acceptable and is globally loved."

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