Mumbai, Jan 13 (Agencies): Tata Coffee on Thursday roped in the iconic coffee chain Starbucks to jointly source and roast the beans from its plantations, which in turn would pave the way for the American coffee brand to enter the domestic market six months down the line, finally.

"This is a non-binding, strategic agreement between us and Starbucks Coffee Company for regional cooperation, and does not involve a joint venture arrangement. The American
firm is also free to contract others for beans. The MoU involves joint sourcing and roasting of the world-class coffee beans from our Coorg (Karnataka) plantations," Tata Coffee chairman RK Krishna Kumar said. Tata Coffee's green coffee beans from its Coorg plantations are known for high-quality and aroma.

The MoU was signed by the Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata and Starbucks officials here on Thursday.

It can be noted that the Seattle-based Starbucks, which is the world's largest and the most iconic coffee chain, has been planning to enter the domestic market for the past five years. The agreement with Tata Coffee will enable it to now speed up its retail plans in the country.

As to associating with Starbucks in its retail foray, which Kumar expects to happen within the next six-seven months, he said, "we have not taken any call on that and have not thought about any tie-up too. But we are not averse to the idea. Finding the right location is the biggest problem for Starbucks."

On the possible locations, he said, "definitely they should be starting off with the metros like Mumbai and Delhi."

On whether the Tatas and Starbucks will go for a joint branding, if they decide to cooperate on the front-end operations, Kumar said, "as far as I understand, Starbucks will be comfortable to operate their own outlets under a single brand and we have no plans, as of  now, to enter into a joint retail operations."

Last July, the Tatas renamed its flagship tea brand Tata Tea as Tata Global Beverages and said all its beverages businesses will be brought under this brand, by integrating various brands in the tea, coffee, water and juices segment.

On this integration, Kumar said, there is a functional integration already but the whole rebranding process will take some more time.

Tata Coffee is Asia's largest coffee plantation company and the third largest exporter of instant coffee from the country. It produces over 10,000 tonnes of shade grown Arabica and Robusta coffees at its 19 estates in the Southern states and its two instant coffee  manufacturing facilities have a combined installed capacity of 6000 tonne.