Customers line up to get their coffee at Aroma’s store in Banceuy, Bandung in West Java.
If you enjoy waking up to the fragrant aroma of coffee to give you your morning kick, Bandung’s signature Aroma coffee may do the job.
But if you expect to buy your regular coffee fix — a cup of latte or cappuccino, you’ll be disappointed. Koffie Fabriek Aroma Bandoeng only sells ground coffee.
“My coffee is only for true coffee lovers,” said Widyapratama, Aroma’s friendly 62-year-old owner, who spontaneously took a break from roasting beans to show curious visitors the coffee-making process at the back of the store, which is located in a modest white building in the bustling Banceuy district at the heart of the West Java capital.
He proudly gave a tour to visitors to see the factory up close, explaining everything in detail — from the Rotterdam-made scales used to weigh the coffee to the wood-fueled German roasting machines, the same ones used since Aroma was first established in 1930.
The wood for the roasting machines, he said, only came from rubber trees to ensure equal but slow heat distribution, which was crucial to boost flavor, while the machines, despite their age, were still totally reliable.
The coffee is weighed down.
In the back storage room, coffee beans that had first been dried under the sun for two weeks at the plantations and another seven hours at the factory were neatly stored inside jute sacks, allowing the air to get in.
The beans are stored for years to allow them to develop their flavors naturally as well as to lower acidity and caffeine levels.
He said that Robusta beans were stored for up to five years, while it took eight years for Arabica to bring out their best flavor.
According to research from a doctor at the Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung, Aroma’s Robusta coffee was beneficial for diabetics and those suffering from low blood pressure.
“The Arabica we serve is also safe for those who are suffering from high blood pressure,” he said.
With the help of nine staff, Widyapratama said he preferred to conduct his business the old-fashioned way, the way he was taught by his father, Tan Houw Sian, who founded Aroma.
He has no plans to expand the business, turn the place into a modern café or open another store. But in time, he will let his successor — one of his three daughters — decide Aroma’s future. “I hope she will not make any drastic changes,” he said with a laugh.
And following his father’s advice, Aroma coffee is affordably priced.
“My coffee should be affordable for everyone, even for those people who don’t have much money,” he said, quoting his father.
Priced at Rp 5,000 (52 US cents) to Rp 7,000 per ounce, the store offers several varieties, from Arabica, Robusta to Toraja. And each customer is only allowed to buy up to 5 kg per visit.
Following his father’s footsteps in the way the coffee is processed, no additional materials like corn or chemicals are added.
Using additional materials in the coffee, he said, would not produce a good flavor. The best coffee only relies on the beans, which should be harvested when they are red, and the right roasting process.
Aroma coffee ready to go.
“It’s easy to know if a coffee has added chemicals,” he says. “If chemicals are there, when the coffee is brewed, the smell is really strong but it’s gone when the coffee is cold. Plus, the cup will be sticky, and when you urinate, it smells of coffee.”
Widyapratama, who inherited the business in 1971, gets personally involved in all the process stages — from buying the beans directly from farmers across Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi to roasting them — from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m., to ensure good quality.
“For a small company like this, we have to be persistent, diligent and be as low cost as possible. If you can take a public van, there is no need to take taxi just for the sake of image,” said Widyapratama, who is also an economics lecturer at several universities, including Bandung’s Padjadjaran University.
At Aroma, the coffee is roasted for around two hours at a temperature of 125 degrees Celsius, not instantly as in some factories that roast coffee just within minutes.
“The way we do business may be a turn-off for people who are only seeking a profit,” he laughed.
Every day, the store, which opens from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., roasts and grinds just enough coffee for the day for their customers, both from home and abroad. Aroma coffee has reached coffee lovers in Australia, Japan and the Netherlands, as well as being ordered by many hotels and cafés.
“The best way to brew coffee is the Indonesian way — adding the desired amount of coffee to boiled water. It’s not necessary to boil the coffee with the water, and it’s best to serve it black,” said Widyapratama, who drinks up to seven cups of coffee a day, a habit he picked up when he was still young. “It’s better, however, to only have two cups of coffee daily,” he quickly added with smile.
— Photos by Stevie Emilia