The great Kemang café

Boire un coup: The bar at Le Café Paris, in Kemang, brings a touch of France to the city (JP/RICKY YUDHISTIRA)
Boire un coup: The bar at Le Café Paris, in Kemang, brings a touch of France to the city (JP/RICKY YUDHISTIRA)

Men lean against their motorbikes on Kemang Raya, smoking and chatting, as workers line up for a caffeine hit from Starbucks.

As the rain starts to fall, boys holding giant umbrellas leap to help tourists find cabs, and creative types lounging by a wall break off mid-sentence to seek shelter with a cuppa.

Fashionable teenagers giggle in the cafes of La Codefin, while families sit inside the packed Pancake Parlor.

Welcome to Kemang, Jakarta’s café central.

There is no doubt somewhere a record of just how many cafés there are in Kemang. There might also, somewhere, be an exhaustive list of them all. Keeping up with them can be tough, with new ones popping up in unexpected places, and old ones melting away into the surroundings, only to reappear with a new look or name or even location.

“[Kemang Raya] is an old traditional restaurant street from years ago,” says 20-year-old Fariq, a barista at Les Classiques Café who was born and bred in Kemang. “There were cafés before, but there are more cafés now.”

Do Jakartans really love coffee that much?

Tucked back off the street, over a rugged car park, is brewww! This café promotes its “cakes-coffee-Internet”, but watching groups spend hours there nursing a single drink suggests they like it more for its space and stylish, comfortable lounges. Wherever you sit, it feels a little like you are in the living room of a chic but relaxed friend – one who happens to have a bar in the corner, free WiFi and all-day breakfast.

“It is a very cozy place,” says Ara, who does the café’s marketing. “It is a relaxing place to meet people and to talk to people.”

Kuswati, 35, also a Kemang local, chooses to drink tea in Casa Café with friends. Sitting above the (ak.’sa.ra) bookshop, Casa wasted no time in establishing itself as a place for trendy young things to hang out.

“I like it here,” she says. “It’s a good place to meet and to socialize. Sometimes we stay here for hours, but sometimes we might go to someone’s house.”

With those words – “stay here for hours” – Kuswati is hitting on what has long lain behind the Jakartan love of cafés – a place to hang out with friends, to chat about everything and nothing.
Linda, 26, who works at the Starbucks in Kemang, sees groups of young people troop in every afternoon.

“They drink because it is a lifestyle,” she says.

The fancier coffee may have arrived simply due to Kemang’s status as “expatriate enclave”; as Farif says, “expats are more interested in coffee than Indonesians are”.
Now things are changing in the cafés of Kemang.

“It’s becoming more of a trend to go to cafés,” says Agus, 32, a barista at Caswells and the national barista champion.

Brew: A barista at brewww! prepares a coffee. (JP/MICHELLE KEENAN)

Brew: A barista at brewww! prepares a coffee. (JP/MICHELLE KEENAN)

But, he adds, the coffee culture is fast catching up with the café culture.

“Indonesians are starting to recognize good coffee, and searching for good coffee. They are more interested in what’s going on in the coffee machine, behind the counter, what the barista is doing, what is happening.”

“Cafes are becoming a big thing,” says 26-year-old businessman Yudhi. “Indonesians like to look at US trends, and follow them. Look at Starbucks.”

Taufik, 62, enjoys socializing in cafés, but for him, a good dose of coffee is essential.
“Indonesian people like kopi [coffee]….Many Indonesians like local coffee, and they have it black.”

He drinks coffee everyday, morning and afternoon, without fail.

“Local coffee is number one to me. You can drink it in the rumah [home], at coffee shops, or restaurants. Bali coffee is also good.”

The price of coffee in cafés sometimes keeps Taufik at home.

Prices in the newer cafés and the bigger coffee chains are considerably higher than for local coffee – you’ll pay the same for a cup of coffee in Jakarta as you would in Sydney, one of the most expensive cities in the world.

“It is too mahal [expensive] for local people,” Taufik says. “It is more exclusive.”
“Coffee in Indonesia is much cheaper, like in the warung,” Yudhi adds. “You can get a cheap glass of it on the streets…You can even bring your thermos with kopi and get them to put hot water in it for you.”

Back on Kemang Raya, workers smoke, while taxi drivers wait for their next fare. A group of young boys yell “Awas!” (Watch out!), when pedestrians walk too close to potholes. Young students hold hands as their backpacks shuffle in unison. A mother carries her daughter, while chasing after her son. Kuswati exits from Casa Café, deep in conversation with a friend.
“It’s just nice to socialize, to see people. It’s important,” she says as she covers her head against the rain.

“Indonesians like to talk, to meet, to be together. That’s it,” Yudhi says, and the activity on the street, cheerful and sociable despite the rain, seems to confirm his conclusion.

“They want to follow their friends. They have to be together.”

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