I went to Red Rose this evening and had a few quick chais and tie biscuits so this is going to be pretty easy. My vote is certainly for the Irani cafes any day but let me list out 10 reasons of mine to seal my case.
1) Chai - the one and only: It is the single biggest reason why I would go there. Simply for the chai. When I go to the Coffee shops I order stuff that's difficult to pronounce and even more difficult to swallow. Even the bill is difficult to swallow!
2)Warm Ambience: Irani cafe's ooze genuine warmth. They really let you be without ever interfering into your private space. The Coffee shops behave like they do not really care - but you know they are into your private pace all the time. Just watch people sitting in an Irani cafe and a Coffee Day and see who looks more relaxed!
3) Quick Service: Fantastic service at Irani cafe's. No frills, great service delivery. Sometimes all you do is nod and it's there. In coffee days much time is lost amidst all the formalities. Too much show, too little substance. The chotu's in the Irani cafe's beat any of the uniformed English speaking chaps who look like they are out of an Archie comic.
4) Colourful People: The kind of people you meet and see in Irani cafes are enough to fill a book. The neighbourhood workers, the regulars, students, police on a break, travellers who stop for a refreshment, patients and their families looking for a quick bite, people who have no money but look for a glass of water to fill their stomach - everyone is welcome. From hoodlums to cops, executives to beggars, employees and employers - they are all there, sing the most colourful language to tell the kind of tales you'd never hear anywhere else but here. Coffee shops have decent people, behaving decently, talking in low tones, whispering into one another's ears. Figure out what's more interesting!
5) Unique Brotherhood: The Irani cafe's fraternity shares a brotherhood that not many else share. You can walk up and sit next to anyone else. You can pick up and drink the water off any table without even asking. The line is drawn only at drinking the other guy's chai and eating his samosas and biscuits I guess. Try doing that in a coffee shop - you'll have to engage in an argument in English.
6) Equality: From the lowest of the low to the highest of high, everyone is the same here. Everyone is welcome, no special treatments. You could be a beggar or the richest man in the wold. Everyone comes and does their job and that's it. Coffee shops may not really let in the neighbourhood mechanic who drops in for a cup of chai.
7) Economy: Chai to die for at 7 bucks, biscuits versus coffee (I'd rather not describe it, it's too personal) at 40 bucks and going higher. Two people can get together and have a great time and a satisfied tummy for about 50 bucks. Two people get together, could lose about 200-300 bucks before they start feeling kind of full. I normally feel empty at the end of it all in the coffee shop.
8) Superb Food: Anyone who has had the pleasure of eating a bun maska omelette, chote samosas, Osmania biscuits, tie biscuits and chai - just to get you started - will have no difficulty with this one. Compare that with sandwiches, pastries et al. Nah, not a patch.
9) Freedom: Iran cafes let you do your own thing. Sit for hours by yourself, chat with friends, talk loudly on the cell phone, give gaalis, tell movie stories, burp - no one is going to object to you. Everyone has the freedom to do their own thing here and the best part is, you are not really disturbing anyone, even if you are shouting in his ear. I don't know why but that is how it is there - no expectations at all and therefore no pretences. Try being yourself and give gaalis to someone in a coffee shop next time!
10) Spiritual Experience: Irani cafes are a spiritual experience. Only those who have sat in a cafe by thmselves staring out at the traffic, at the people, reading a paper, sipping chai late at night, watching the rain fall - knows what I am talking about. It is not about the people, the place, the hygiene - there is something that connects at a deep level. There is an honesty there that you cannot beat with all the fancy interiors, air conditioning etc. It's real versus plastic here. Some place have it, some don't.
I am sure there are more but these came up first. The comfort of the Irani furniture, the ergonomic design of the chairs and the tables, the wonderful acoustics, the open hearted welcome - no wonder everyone who walks into the Irani cafe relates with something in the cafe. From the little kid who wants a drink of water, to the beggar who wants some alms, harried people from work, studies, finding peace, creative people whetting their minds, they are all around there, getting what they want. Be it a chai and a chota samosa, bun maska or tie biscuit! Three cheers to the Irani cafes!