BALI: Shutter-clicking and lively chatter filled the room along with the aroma of roasted coffee beans. Big crowds gathered around Insta-worthy spots, forming a line as long as the queue to place orders.
Welcome to Starbucks Dewata, the latest talk of the town in Bali. It is a 20,000 sq ft store situated in the heart of the island’s tourist district, making it the largest Starbucks outlet in Southeast Asia.
Visitors, especially Indonesians, have been flooding the store since its opening in January this year to take in the sights.
Indonesians are no stranger to the caffeinated-brew, of course. The coffee plants were first brought in by the Dutch several centuries ago, and this long-standing relationship with coffee cultivation provides a solid foundation for a robust and distinct coffee culture in the archipelago nation. Today, Indonesia is one of the world’s top coffee producing and exporting countries.
While most Indonesians engage with the coffee culture as passive drinkers, a new trend of enthusiasts showing greater appreciation for the art of coffee making is on the rise.
The coffee scene in Bali, for instance, is a lively one. The presence of giant chains such as Starbucks looms large, as local artisan businesses and traditional shops continue to cultivate their own niche audiences.
Branding itself as a “Coffee Sanctuary”, Starbucks Dewata illustrates a thorough seed-to-cup coffee journey.
“This Coffee Sanctuary seeks to educate, entertain and eventually make visitors experience the coffee journey,” said Mr Daniel Kerr, Starbucks’ general manager.
Upon entering the premises, visitors will see a 100 sq m Arabica coffee farm, where they can partake in de-pulping and washing the beans during harvest season.
The “educate, entertain and experience” approach spreads across the store. Visitors can try their hands at operating tools such as a grinder and a rake, and follow the journey of a coffee bean through interactive video walls.
Here, Starbucks Barista Brand Ambassador Mr Emmanuel Bagan, who was deployed temporarily from the Philippines, assists and guides in-house baristas handpicked from other Starbucks stores across Indonesia.
Located on the second floor is the Dewata seedling nursery, an open greenhouse tended by a dedicated team of Balinese farmers. The seeds will be donated to Kintamani farmers in eastern Bali, one of Indonesia’s leading regions for high quality coffee beans.
This is on top of Starbucks Indonesia’s donation of 330,000 coffee seeds to small farmers and their continuous commitment to donate 100,000 more annually.
Distribution of seeds aside, Starbucks has committed itself to working with Indonesian farmers to bring high-quality Indonesian coffee to the world. Its Farmers Support Centre (FSC), located in Berastagi, North Sumatra, is led by notable Indonesian agronomist Surip Mawardi.
Since its founding in 2015, FSC Berastagi has helped local farmers through a series of extensive training, and contributed to the growth of the industry by conducting research to make coffee, especially Indonesian varieties, a sustainable agricultural product.
There, farmers get access to the latest findings from top agronomists, tools, and best practices for free — whether they sell their coffee beans back to Starbucks, or not.
Starbucks said these efforts are part of its contributions to the Indonesian coffee industry. They are a gesture to thank Indonesia for satisfying the world’s appetite for coffee - the republic’s Sumatra beans has been the staple of Starbuck’s offerings since 1971.
ARTISAN ESTABLISHMENTS HOLD THEIR OWN
In recent years, Indonesians’ interest towards coffee has evolved from just being a connoisseur, to a more complex role: craftsmanship.
Local brands have been leading the way in producing artisan coffee.
One of the most successful examples would be Anomali Coffee. Established in 2007 by two young Indonesians, Anomali is regarded as an example of coffee entrepreneurship in Indonesia.
Its stated mission is to promote and curate Indonesian specialty coffee.
The local chain gained its initial popularity in Jakarta, and soon spread its wings to Bali. Its two outlets are located in Ubud and Kuta.
Mr Roni Kuncoro, an Ubud-based blogger, is one of Anomali’s regulars. Having patronised numerous cafes in Bali, Anomali remains his favourite.
“Our (Indonesian) coffee is richer in aroma,” Mr Roni said. “Plus, Anomali’s outlet in Ubud is big and comfortable for me to hang out and talk with friends.”
Anomali offers a variety of beans from across the country, including Sumatra Kerinci, Toraja, Flores, Java Ijen, Aceh Gayo and Bali Kintamani.
“I prefer Anomali because the quality of its coffee tastes better, and it is cheaper than nearby stores,” Mr Roni said.
Another local coffee joint, albeit with a smaller scale, is Uma Kopi.
Started by two locals, Mr Ngurah D Putra and Ms Alexandra Dewi, Uma Kopi boasts the concept of serving local Indonesian coffee in rich Balinese atmosphere.
The store itself was previously an authentic Balinese house built in 1996 with an open-space terrace full of plants, wooden furnitures, and traditional Balinese gapura (Hinduism ornate gate tower) as the entrance.
The local flavour is also highlighted in Uma Kopi’s bean selection. Uma Kopi chose the island’s Kintamani beans as their single-origin, mainly for its quality and unique fruity characteristics with hints of grapefruit, caramel and chocolate.
While Anomali is locals’ go-to for Indonesian coffee, Uma Kopi’s top visitors are foreigners.
The store is situated in Seminyak area, Bali’s inimitable tourist haven.
“This area is occupied by restaurants and cafés with modern-industrial concept for urban travellers,” explained Ms Alexandra. “We are sure Uma Kopi’s approach will add to the variety.”
She acknowledged that Uma Kopi will never be able to compete with the bigger players. “But we won’t feel threatened either, because coffee is all about taste and experience”.
“In our opinion, big chains only do coffee business,” she said. “We, on the other hand, add soul to our coffee.”
LOYALTY TO TRADITIONAL COFFEE
While swanky international chains and quaint boutique cafes claim their presence, traditional warkop (short for “warung kopi”, or coffee stall) continue to serve their unassuming, affordable brew to loyal customers.
Bhineka Djaja in old town Denpasar, capital of Bali, has been producing and supplying coffee beans since 1935 during the Dutch colonial era. Considered one of the oldest shops on the island, this warkop retains a strong local following.
Its various types of Indonesian coffee are sold at very affordable prices. A cup of Balinese coffee, for instance, costs only IDR10,000 or about US$1.
The nostalgic feel from the antique coffee tools and rustic interior draws customers in and invites them to stay long – and they do.
Mr Nazarudin Raja comes to Bhineka Djaja almost every day.
Sipping his second cup of Bali coffee on a Saturday afternoon, Mr Nazarudin observed: “The great thing about this coffee shop is that the people who come here are genuine — they love the coffee because they do love it, not just because it is cheap.”
“They may have the money to buy a US$3 cup of cappuccino at other stores, but no, they prefer a US$1 Bali coffee because of its quality and authenticity.”
Despite its popularity among the local people, Bhineka Djaja is not resting on its laurels. It launched Bhineka Muda (“muda” means young) a short drive away to tap into the growing market.
As its name suggests, this branch targets a younger crowd. The store design has a vintage look to attract millenials.
“Bhineka Muda is a creative hub for locals, carrying out the true value of a traditional coffee shop as a place for people to gather and talk,” said Mr Ary Wicahyana, brand manager of both Bhineka stores.
“Most Indonesians are short on budget, but have a leisure of time,” Mr Ary noted. “That’s why most cups sold in traditional coffee places are big, but cheap — so they can stay for more talking, yet spend less money.”
He added: “Indonesia is a very communal nation and its people talk a lot – now that means business to me”.
Coffee businesses with local mindsets such as Uma Kopi and Bhineka Djaja may just be the key to Indonesia’s coffee culture.
While Starbucks drives initiatives such as educating the masses and working with the farmers, local businesses focus more on the deeper coffee experience – all of which contribute to the growth of the industry.
In this regard, it is safe to say that local coffee joints are quite secure despite the onslaught of international chains.
Business will be brisk for as long as Indonesians enjoy chatting over fresh brew.