A couple listens to Ogie’s presentation, where he explains the details of his work and shows photographs to them on his iPad.

The meeting was not in an office. Instead it took place in a relaxed atmosphere accompanied by a few tall glasses of black coffee at a humble coffee shop — known locally as a warung kopi — in Banda Aceh.

Ogie, who works as a wedding photographer, said that he always arranged to meet his clients in coffee shops. The warung need not be fancy, he said, but must be comfortable enough and have an Internet connection. “It’s more comfortable to meet at a warung kopi compared to other places. It’s more open and relaxed, especially over a tall glass of coffee,” said Ogie.

He said that he has used warung kopi since he has yet to have an office or studio. Almost all his work-related activities — making presentations, conducting negotiations and even editing his work — is done at warung kopi. In all, he could spend hours at a single coffee shop.

“The only part that cannot be done at a warung is the photo shoot,” he says. Socializing while drinking coffee has become inseparable part of Acehnese culture — leading some to call the province “the land of a million coffee shops”, alongside its more traditional moniker as the verandah of Mecca.

There are warung kopi on almost every corner in Aceh, especially in the Banda Aceh. All of which serve the province’s namesake beverage, kopi Aceh.

Widely renowned, kopi Aceh, made from Robusta beans, is brewed and then filtered by a cotton “sock” over and over again, resulting in foamy coffee with strong aroma.

“This style of brewing brings out the aroma and filters out the residue,” Arol, who owns Aroel coffee shop.

While robusta beans are more popular because they are cheaper and have a stronger flavor and higher caffeine, For coffee lovers, Arabica beans are much more preferred since they have a greater variety of flavors.

“Arabica is rarely available in Aceh because there isn’t much demand and it is more expensive,” Arol said. A tall glass of Robusta coffee is priced at Rp 4,000 (41 US cents), while beverages brewed from Arabica beans are sold for between Rp 15,000 and Rp 25,000.

Local coffee is typically cultivated in West and Central Aceh. Central Aceh is known for its Gayo Arabica, a premium quality bean and an export commodity. “The Acehnese are not fond of Arabica. They say it’s more bitter and doesn’ttaste as good if you put sugar in it,” Arol said.

These days, warung kopi feature modern architecture and contemporary interior design in addition to the latest coffee house sine qua non: free Wi-Fi.

These days, it’s common to find warung kopi filled with customers busy on their laptops next to their coffee, turning Banda Aceh into a cybercity.

Coffee culture has come a long way in Aceh, where people, especially men, spend their time over their coffee at warung, socializing, shooting the breeze or simply catching up on current events.

Topics under discussion range from village tidings to global affairs, covering everything from the petty to the political.

“The warung is a stage that showcases Acehnese activity, from politics, the economy, culture to tradition,” said Munawar Liza Zainal, a politician from the recently established National Aceh Party.
Munawar said that plenty of political activities take place at warung kopi, from simple talks to high-level political deals. And many politicians use warung to reach out to voters.
“A discussion at a warung is more egalitarian, without the boundaries that exist in formal or official situation,” Munawar said.

During the decades-long separatist insurgency pitting the central government against the now-defunct Free Aceh Movement (GAM), warung kopi were the neutral ground for all parties to meet informally.

The warung kopi remains a key place for sharing information, since most provide free access to newspapers and television. In big towns, almost all warung kopi provide free Internet and are open 24 hour a day.

“Internet access has become the main reason for people to go to a warung kopi. Some even use warung as their ‘unofficial’ offices,” said journalist Junaidi Hanafiah. Warung kopi in Banda Aceh have also become gathering places for several communities.

Automobile enthusiasts, for instance, usually hang out at Black Jack, while civil servants can be seen at Warung Taufik and activists and high-ranking officials gather at Warung Jasa Ayah Solong. Meanwhile, teenagers spend their time at Five Corner and Ring Road Coffee.

Since Sharia rules in Aceh prohibit night clubs and other such establishments, warung kopi have become the only place for people to go to unwind after a long day at work.

Although traditionally only men went to warung kopi, people of all ages, including more and more women, can now be seen enjoying cups of coffee.
For some who say they cannot survive without caffeine boost, warung kopi are ever important.

“I can get dizzy and feel without energy without coffee,” says Juliansyah, a self-confessed coffee addict.

By Hotli Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post


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