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Friday, December 19, 2014

The Warmth in A Cup of Coffee

This morning I sat at Starbucks, and again, as always, I felt out of place. People coming in and going, family laughed together over cups of coffee and hot cocoa (for the kids) and slices of cake, friends sat and gossiped merrily, and office workers/entrepreneurs carrying tray(s) filled with several cups of coffee. In my two years of living here I have gone to more coffee chains than I've ever been my whole life in Indonesia, yet still I couldn't get use to it.

Coffee in Indonesia is intimate. Or at least it is in Java and Bali, I don't really know how it is in other areas of Indonesia. It is an indispensable part of day-to-day living. Morning in our house always starts with a cup of coffee and breakfast for dad. During his working days, the coffee cup (and sometimes his breakfast too) often accompanied him in the car during his daily commute. On weekends and holidays, it is his way to relaxed. A cup of coffee, a small snack of traditional cake or a slice of bread, and the newspaper of the day, that's how he like his leisurely mornings. And most importantly, it has to be prepared by my mom. You can say that coffee-making in Indonesia is similar to sandwich-making in western society. The difference is, a woman who can make good coffee in Indonesia is usually praised for it.

When male guests came visiting, they were always offered a cup coffee. In fact, the most common greeting I've ever heard in Indonesia was "Ayo ngopi dulu" or "Come, let's have some coffee first". You could easily see friends (usually male) hang out in the afternoon or night time at somebody's house, drinking cups and cups of coffee and smoking clove cigarettes while discussing the matter of the world (that is, the village matter or other miscellaneous rumors); or you can see them doing that in warung, which is a cross between grocery store and cafe. On picnics or gatherings, people would bring massive thermos filled with coffee and tea, but most importantly coffee. Coffee, in a way, is the little link that bind the society together.

That is why, I never understand the coffee chain society. When Starbucks first opened in Jakarta (where I live) and followed by numerous other coffee chains, I could not understand why people were flocking to these places. I, for one, was not especially interested to spend a full day salary for a cup of coffee, no matter how intriguing it sounds. My wealthier friends were all into it, and often times they would buy me the drinks just so I can join them. Again, I still think it was a pretty much waste of money even though it was not my money. Moving to Bali, I finally found what those coffee shops are good for: meetings. When you want to meet (and impress) a client, there is nothing better (or safer) than to meet at a Starbucks or other coffee chain. And now in US, coffee chains are places to, again, meet with people or to work. I always think the $1.75 I paid for the coffee in Starbucks as seating fee, that is, I pay for sitting in Starbucks and got free coffee in return. Scandalous, I know.

My husband told me that my penny-pinching way was most likely came from my days of living in Indonesia. He said I remind him of his grandmother, who despite of having a fortune she can't stop penny pinching because that was how she had to live during the war period. I don't really know if that is true, because although I do have not-so-good days in Indonesia I was never hungry. It's just doesn't make any sense for me. A cup of latte costs roughly $3-4, while in the supermarket near where I live pork chop $ 0.99 per pound and whole chicken is $0.79 per pound. Granted, they are not the fancy kind of meat (organic/grass feed/GMO free/etc), but it is still a whopping comparison. Maybe because I am not much of a coffee connoisseur, maybe because in my mind food rank higher than drinks, maybe I am just weird that way.

In a way, the coffee chains in US are maybe similar to the warung in Indonesia: a place to meet and chat over cup(s) of coffee. Yet still I miss the warmth and intimacy over a cup of coffee in Indonesia, where a cup of coffee is made by hand and presented in cup and saucer, where the women would indulge the coffee while happily gossiping in the comfort of their own house or the men in the warung. I miss the honest smile and the friendly invitation "Ayo ngopi dulu.". I miss the wholesome feeling knowing that everyone can stop for a cup of coffee since it is very inexpensive (only $0.25 or so). Sorry Starbucks and other coffee chains, you are cool and everything but Indonesia did it better. Way better.

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