August 15, 2003

Article at Wall Street Journal

The Card: Full of Beans

For the perfect cup of java, head to (where else?) Java. The cafe culture of Jakarta is legendary, but Indonesians in the know fuel up at Kopi Aroma in Bandung, a few hours' drive east of the capital. Since the 1930s, Kopi Aroma (literally, "coffee aroma," the name the shop goes by) has operated out of a cluttered Art Deco building -- now almost hidden amid vegetable stalls, rusty garages and old, dilapidated Chinese shops. Guidebooks may still call Bandung the Paris of Java, but the accuracy of the comparison has faded dramatically in recent years. Gone are the heady, hopeful days before krismon (the Asian financial crisis). Today Bandung is a run-down, sweltering mess of a city. But never mind: Kopi Aroma's brew is as delectable as ever -- you'd be hard-pressed to find better java anywhere.

Among the antique grinders, jars, roasters, filters, mills and stoves -- all still in use and mostly Dutch, thanks to Java's early settlers -- are sacks of beans that have been aging in the shop for up to eight years. Finally, the owners -- a father, mother and daughter -- will deem the beans sufficiently acid-free and sort them, one by one, into packages with Dutch lettering. The shop offers both arabica -- which has a mild, pleasant flavor -- and robusta, the stronger, more highly caffeinated option. The beans come from those parts of Indonesia with the best soil for growing coffee (the robusta from Bengkulu and Lampung; the arabica from Toraja, Aceh, Medan, East Java and Flores). The arabica is a bargain at 9,500 rupiah ($1.11) a quarter kilogram, the robusta, 7,500. But there's really only one flavor of the day at Kopi Aroma: attention to detail and loving care -- a rare bean, indeed, in an era of coffee-shop chains.

Kopi Aroma, JI. Banceuy, No. 51A, Bandung, Java. Tel: 62-22-423-0473.