Sun, 23 Jun 2002

Starbucks' stirs up brewing coffee culture

Bruce Emond, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It's an occurrence that is nothing less than heaven-sent for those of us whose kitchen counters groan under an assortment of our favorite brews (a Japanese brand of Toraja, vanilla hazelnut, some Balinese and that soulful indulgence of Illy espresso currently make up the collection of yours truly).

But, for others with a high dose of cynicism toward the grasping tentacles of American corporate expansion, the opening of a Starbucks here is along the same lines as the Golden Arches foisting yet another burger joint on an unsuspecting public.

Whatever your take, it's yet more proof of the brewing coffee culture here, even though most people still consider the drink as something to be taken in the morning, with a smoke and while browsing the newspaper, or at those sidewalk stalls offering a glass of piping-hot coffee with its grounds.

For Jakarta, at least, cafe and coffee culture have arrived. From the Ooh La Las and Our Daily Breads (both very good at what they do), savoring one's favorite cup of the dark stuff went up a level with Coffee Club and the newly opened Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at Plaza Senayan.

Now there is the May arrival of Starbucks, the firm founded in 1971 that brought upscale coffee to the masses in the U.S. and employs 55,000 people at stores all around the globe, in a mall already populated with Ooh La La, La Moda, the Dome and Excelsior.

The Indonesian affiliate of this giant company, now firmly part of popular culture as the favorite pick-me-up of Gwyneth, Jennifer, Brad, Nicole, Bill during his White House days and other international celebrities, snapped by paparazzo bearing its distinctive brand-bearing coffee cups, has taken up residence in a prime ground floor corner spot of Plaza Indonesia.

It is conveniently located adjacent to one of the main entrances and, interestingly, is right across from the venerable Segafredo, which also does a great cup of java.

The new store, like its forerunners around the world, has been designed with the vaunted "Starbucks Experience" in mind: soft jazz plays in the background, patrons can curl up in a comfy chair in a tweedy section to the right of the open-fronted coffee section or see and be seen at tables outside.

Even the selection of cakes and sandwiches has an accompanying label indicating which beverage they go best with.

The store's philosophy is most definitely not about getting bums on seats, and then marching them out of the place as soon as they have taken their last slurp, said general manager Anthony Cottan from PT Sari Coffee Indonesia, the local licensee for Starbucks Coffee International, Inc.

Instead, Cottan said, the goal is for the stores to become part of the daily routine, a place to stop at and unwind while partaking of a cup of the good stuff.

"We want Starbucks to be the third place in people's lives, after the home and office," Cottan said. "The music compliments the atmosphere, and is an attraction to bring people in. We really don't have enough chairs on the weekend, but we design them so that people want to stay.

"We want people to come, stay and then come back again."

Atmosphere has a lot to do with whether people want to come and stay a while, but it's the coffee that will get them in the door.

Cottan said Starbucks wanted to foster a deeper appreciation of coffee -- "we take our coffee seriously, and we don't want people to lose sight of that" -- and it starts with its staff.

Before they can qualify to wear their green aprons and become part of the store's army of barista (coffee experts), each must pass a period of training to get the savvy of what they are serving.

"Part of our daily ritual is to drink coffee, and we have a morning meeting every day," said Cottan, whose office includes its own store where employees undergo some of their training.

"We learn about the different subtleties of coffee, what is the difference between, say, a Kenyan and a Guatemalan Antigua, and give them the confidence to explain it to customers.

"We find that people may know the coffee of their own area in Indonesia, but not those from other parts of the country."

In some ways, Starbucks is playing catch-up, a relative Johnny-come-lately to the burgeoning Jakarta coffee scene. Cottan said there were repeated requests from committed Starbucks' drinkers to come to Jakarta, but the firm waited for the right time and a suitable partner before making its entry.

As for the fear that the heavyweight of international coffee will move in and muscle out the minor players on the scene, Cottan was quick to state, understandably, that there is room enough for all.

It's all part of the company's belief that it is helping the public go from a morning caffeine fix of Nescafe to developing a deeper understanding of the coffee-tasting experience.

"Other players are very important, too," Cottan said. "But, if it's specialty coffee you want, then try us."

And, if you don't like coffee, they have tea, too. Naturally.

Starbucks, Ground floor, Plaza Indonesia. Opening hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-midnight weekends.