Tea, Coffee, Beverage, Meaning and Starbucks

One of the reported items in the ET went by the title ‘Starbucks goes plush for India, give its stores s local flavor’. It reported that the company is positioning, its coffee chain as an aspirational brand. India is by and large is a tea drinking nation. The company spokesperson said that Starbucks coffee bars should be welcoming, inviting and familiar places for people to connect. The research indicated that coffee for Indian consumers is not the primary reason to visit café bars. Rather visitors use coffee bars to meet friends and relatives. A very small portion of sales is consists of take away orders. Starbucks wants to offer its customer a unique experience.

 The reason why I am writing this post is that recently I conducted a study titled ‘Coffee and tea: socio-cultural meaning, context and branding’. This study was motivated by a desire to explore the deeper meaning that these two common beverages hold in our minds.  It threw up interesting insights, which I called as’ beverages in opposition’.  Products or commodities not mere physical entities constructed out of their parts, components or ingredients rather they are also constellations of associations/meanings. They are transformed with conscious marketing efforts or often achieve transformations automatically into psycho-social constructions.  A product or brand is not merely a ‘manufactured or assembled’ entity it is ‘much more’. Branding to a major extent is about creating this ‘much more’. Consumer buying is about meaning construction and signification in a world that is less physical is more psycho-social. Let us look at what coffee and tea stand for.

 Though coffee and tea share a lot axiomatic similarity in terms of their preparation method and usage they differ radically in their hidden symbolism. Tea and coffee have different imprints. Coffee is celebratory and tea is ordinary. Coffee consumption is uncommon and its uncommonness imbues it with a unique mystique associated with a wealthy, refined and intellectually evolved class. Coffee is not a potion for sustenance. Tea is linked to ordinariness and ritualistic in home consumption. Tea is instrumental in bringing family together in close proximity and provides platform for sharing and caring. Symbolically tea brings the family together in close proximity where adults share ideas, joys and sorrows.  

 A certain mystique is associated with coffee. Coffee is predominantly outside drink, it derives its utility from social, aesthetic and emotional role. Coffee does not enjoy such time connections. Tea is routinely prepared but coffee is not. Coffee is celebratory and tea is ordinary. Its consumption is probably prompted by its signaling value which may stem from high price implying exclusion of masses; unique taste which only connoisseurs appreciate; and complex preparation process signifies  dexterity in culinary skills (beaten or filtered or brewed).

 A certain mystique is associated with coffee. Coffee consumption in uncommon and it is this uncommonness which imbues this beverage with a unique mystique associated with a wealthy, refined and intellectually evolved class Tea is functional but coffee is symbolic. Coffee houses differ in their spatial, sensory and social meaning. Some of the Coffee houses sell coffee as an alibi to engage in either intellectually evolved serious conversations (business meetings) or promotion of friendship, gossiping to spend time  and social bonding (one of the coffee chains makes a proposition that  ‘a lot can happen over coffee’ while the other are offers pure sensory indulgence in the aromatic world of coffee. 

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4 thoughts on “Tea, Coffee, Beverage, Meaning and Starbucks

  1. Hi,

    I find your views more in line with the North Indian tea/coffee consumer. In southern part coffee is much more common and it is consumed on an average 3-4 times a day in small quantities. So I am guessing your study was focused on some demography. Kindly share if that is the case.

  2. Sir but can we use Metaphor elicitation technique in overcoming the bias, somehow i believe in consumer behavior the best way to understand preference is through tacit elicitation of preferences.

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