Beyond those cozy and tastefully designed coffee shops, however, Jakarta has plenty of old school, no-nonsense establishments that offer cheap but good quality coffee and great food. At US$2 a cup or less, the coffee is brewed traditionally without sophisticated machines. The varieties of the drinks may be limited, but the coffee is strong and rich, and – most importantly for people with gastric problem like yours truly – low in acidity.
The capital’s Chinatown in West and North Jakarta is home to a range of these coffee shops, but I’ve shortlisted four of the more prominent ones. These places open early, some as early as 6 a.m., so they are great for breakfast. Please add your own favorite coffee shop that I’ve missed in the comment section below.
Ice Coffee Tak Kie
Jl. Pintu Besar Selatan III 4 - 6 Mangga Besar, West Jakarta
Tucked in the busy narrow alley of Gang Gloria, a legendary Chinese food haven, Tak Kie is said to have been around since 1927. And from the look of the interior and decoration, it hasn’t changed much since then, which is awesome. It has no air conditioner, only fans, but air circulation is good enough so you won’t feel like you’re trapped in a sauna.
There is no signboard to identify the place, and it’s nearly hidden behind the throng of food vendors from whom you can also order to eat inside. Tak Kie only sells two types of coffee: black and with condensed milk. The latter, a crowd favorite, is refreshingly delicious taken with iced, just the right balance of coffee and sweet, syrupy milk.
The food is various and tasty – from heavy dishes like rice with roast pork and chicken noodle to assorted snacks like fried meatballs and dim sum. While you’re eating, a couple of vendors will come to sell you stuff, from undergarments, tank tops to remote controls.
By now an institution, this place has drawn people from various corners of the Greater Jakarta, including high-ranking government officials. During a recent visit, the cashier, an elderly Chinese Indonesian man, came to our table and asked if we could see YouTube from our smartphones.
“Find a video of Joko Widodo coming to Tak Kie,” he told us.
The video shows the popular Jakarta governor biking with his entourage from his office in Central Jakarta and making a stop to drink at the coffee shop. As we congratulated him, the old man smiled proudly and slipped back behind the counter.
Tiong Sim Kopitiam
Jl. Pecenongan No. 76A, Pecenongan, Central Jakarta
Located next to Red Top Hotel, this was a place to hang out after hours because it opened 24 hours before a recent change in management.
The two-story coffee shop is big and can hold dozens of customers. The menu, mostly Chinese food, is quite extensive, but also offers healthier snacks like edamame. Like Tak Kie, the favorite drink is ice coffee with condensed milk. It’s best consumed with the variety of toasts on offer.
Since I last dined there, however, I heard that it has gone through a management change, with a new name and new opening hours (no longer round the clock). And, sadly, it no longer serves pork. But a friend who went there more recently told me that every thing else remains the same.
Jl. Kelapa Kopyor Raya Blok Q1 No. 1, Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta
Only four years old or so, this place may not have been around as long as the first two coffee shops, but rest assured it is as good. Located in a housing complex, it occupies a corner of a house that has been turned into a small food court.
Just as you walk inside, you can find a small counter where the ‘barista’ pours coffee through a giant filter into rows of cups. He uses Toraja coffee beans from South Sulawesi, which has strong body and low acidity. Here they also offer black and with condensed milk coffee.
The coffee shop serves eggs, soft or hard-boiled according to your taste, an assortment of bakpao or steamed buns with various fillings (from pork to soybean), and chicken rice. You can also order from other stalls. It opens from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekend.
Phoenam Coffee Shop
Jl. Wahid Hasyim No. 65, Central Jakarta
Meaning ‘terminal’ or 'transit place' in a Chinese dialect, Phoenam was a popular establishment in Makassar, South Sulawesi, that began in 1946, before it opened in Jakarta and other cities. In the past year or so, the coffee shop has expanded to open outlets at several places in the capital.
It offers a variety of Sulawesi coffee, including Toraja coffee and the unique Rainbow coffee that is a mixture of coffee, milk, honey and ginseng. The food is also extensive, from Kaya toast to South Sulawesi delicacies and dishes like yellow saffron rice and coto Makassar (the region’s rich beef stew).
The downside in this particular outlet, however, is that it stinks like an ashtray, as it allows people to smoke inside the air-conditioned room. There is a non-smoking section in the back, but with poor air circulation you may end up feeling slightly suffocated.
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