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Publication Date : 10-03-2013
A hot cuppa is a surefire way to bring people together and fuel warm conversation
Like the Europeans who first brought the commodity to the archipelago, Indonesians enjoy the company of others through coffee. Countless small coffee shops have sprung up and disappeared over the centuries, all of them representing a continuous evolution of the culture the Dutch brought to these shores in the late-1700s.
In many areas around the country, especially outside Java, the coffee shop has become an important institution.
The people of Aceh and Bangka-Belitung provinces, for instance, spend time with friends and family over cups - or more commonly, glasses - of coffee.
Adi W. Taroepratjeka, a coffee consultant at Secangkirkopi, said that coffee shops had become places for people to share their stories - community centres where they gather as part of their daily routines.
“In North Sumatra’s Medan, businesspeople arrive at coffee shops very early in the morning to meet one another. They will then discuss what’s new in town, who’s buying what, who’s going where and other information,” Adi said.
Strong bonds, he said, were also forged at coffee shops, encouraging politicians in Bangka to kick off their campaigns at cafes.
He observed that a strong coffee-shop culture was usually prevalent in areas where people of Chinese descent resided, such as in Aceh, Medan and Makassar in South Sulawesi as well as Pontianak and Singkawang, both West Kalimantan.
The popular method of serving coffee in these shops is kopi tiam. Kopi is the Indonesian for coffee, while tiam means shop in the Chinese dialect of Hokkien.
The kopi tiam method involves brewing the coffee through a steep metal pot with a cotton “sock” filter and serving with sweetened condensed milk. Kopi tiam brewers typically use Robusta beans that are roasted with oil, margarine and sugar for up to three hours.
“In Java and Bali, the beverage that is enjoyed in company at hangout stalls is tea. Coffee is usually enjoyed privately at home,” said Adi, the internationally certified coffee grader and taster. The most widely popular coffee brewing method in the archipelago is the simplest one - pouring hot boiling water over finely ground coffee.
The method, known locally as kopi tubruk, is a modification of the earliest brewing method: boiling the ground coffee. An example of the old fashioned way is Turkish coffee, which is prepared by adding fine ground coffee to water and bringing it to the boil.
Kopi tubruk also typically uses powdered Robusta beans - known for their higher caffeine content, strong flavourr and cheaper price - sold by major Indonesian coffee companies or alternately by small and medium coffee enterprises. The higher priced Arabica beans are mostly exported.
Around the turn of the century, however, more attention began to be paid to the espresso method, which forces hot pressurised and vaporised water through ground coffee.
Demand for espresso-based coffee increased significantly after the US-based Starbucks chain entered the market in Indonesia in 2002. Toni Wahid, a prominent name in local coffee discussions, said the foreign franchise helped nurture the notion of coffee drinking from a social activity into a culinary exploration and lifestyle ritual.
“The rapid expansion of the franchise has also led to the establishment of other foreign franchises and many local espresso-based modern coffee shops,” said Toni.
Turning from the traditional social hub, coffee shops have now become alternative venues for business meetings and auxiliary working places.
Adi noted, however, that regardless of which beans were used and the brewing method employed, it is not the drink that matters the most.
“It’s always about who you’re with when you enjoy a cup of coffee. The coffee is important, but the companion is more so.”