8 November 2019


Photo courtesy of theshonet.com 

It’s 2 p.m. at the office. The words displayed on your screen slowly begin to blur together, you hear a yawn from somewhere in the back, and you’re about to doze off, until...

“Does anyone else want an es kopi susu? I’m Gojek-ing one for myself right now.”

There it is. Salvation.

Yes, you would very much like an es kopi susu, thank you very much. Caffeine, after all, is non-negotiable. What is negotiable, however, is how you enjoy it. In the past, an afternoon coffee break might have meant a sneaky cappuccino at a cafe nearby or even a packet of instant coffee courtesy of the office pantry. Now, it more than likely entails a delivery via motorbike taxi.

In present-day Indonesia, the expansive network of motorbike taxi services plays a huge role in how coffee—or anything else for that matter—is consumed. Hosted by multi-service platforms such as homegrown Gojek and Malaysian-owned Grab, mobile applications such as these have opened up a whole new world of commerce and connectivity. From hailing cars to hiring masseuses, these online platforms cater to the every whim of even the least tech-savvy of people. Unsurprisingly, millennials make up the biggest cohort to make full use of said platforms—a staggering 70,4% use the Gojek app on the daily.

Clad in traffic light-green jackets, motorbike taxi services are by far these platforms’ most popular offering. Aside from helping people get from point A to point B, the service can also deliver packages, and food and beverages. The convenience is unparalleled. For the merchant, it means eliminating the hassle of hiring a full-time delivery man, while for the young executive sitting in their office, it means that an afternoon pick-me-up often comes in the form of a plastic-sealed cup of coffee delivered by an abang-abang Gojek/Grab (Gojek/Grab man).

Multi-service platforms and coffee are practically partners in crime. What should be noted, however, is that the coffee in question does not typically come from a conventional espresso machine-powered cafe, but rather from one of the hundreds of chain coffee stands known as kopi kekinian. Ironically, despite roughly translating to “coffee of today”, most kopi kekinian brands specialize in beverages with old-school flair—think childhood flavors like pandan and taro. Most, however, could probably attest that their most popular offering is a drink akin to a typical iced latte with the added addition of a dash of palm sugar known as the aforementioned es kopi susu (iced coffee with milk). Icy cool with rich coconutty sweetness, they’re pretty hard to beat and borderline addictive.

The only thing that could make these drinks sweeter is the attractive deals that come with them. Nearly all kopi kekinian chains have some sort of reward program that is linked to the financial services—such as GoPay and OVO— hosted on multi-service platforms, be they cashbacks or points that the user can collect to buy future purchases. It may come as a surprise to some that Indonesia’s coffee scene has become entirely entwined with its technological advancements. The fact is especially impressive when one considers how skeptical Indonesians were of cashless forms of payment in the past. Of course, coffee hasn’t been the lone catalyst for this change, but it’s certainly had a big role in easing the market into it. Transportation and financial technology have become the unlikely driving force—and beneficiaries—of the new wave of coffee the country is riding.

You could even call it the fourth wave.

Before getting into it, it’s impossible to talk about a fourth wave without first reviewing the third wave. For the uninitiated, the third wave coffee movement refers to the collective effort made by farmers, purveyors, and business owners to treat coffee as an artisanal foodstuff rather than a commodity. It’s the movement that brought forth an inundation of cafes that managed to attract both coffee connoisseurs and prowling Instagrammers with their latte art-spewing baristas and stylish surroundings. Hipster cafes, as some would call them. And while Indonesia has embraced this movement over the past decade or so, the triumph of the kopi kekinian model signals the coming of change.

Besides the difference in concoctions, where coffee shops of old and new diverge is the element of environment. Where the aesthetics of a third wave coffee shop could sometimes be the raison d'être of visiting a cafe, generally speaking, the surroundings of a kopi kekinian outlet is irrelevant to the overall experience it strives to provide. Indonesia’s fourth wave coffee fulfills a need, and that need has nothing to do with aesthetics.

Then what of third wave coffee shops, the independents, and so-called hipsters? Are they destined to fade into the background to make way for the fresh-faced kopi kekinian? Highly improbable. While constituents of Indonesia’s fourth wave are enjoying their time in the sun, third wave coffee shops have stayed busy, if not for slightly different reasons. With digitalization comes the widespread adoption of remote working, the idea being that people shouldn’t have to spend upwards of three hours on Jakarta’s packed roads to do work they could easily do elsewhere. Most don’t find working from home productive, so it isn’t uncommon for people to treat coffee shops as their own remote office.

That being said, there is bound to come a time where people return to the classical idea of a neighborhood coffee shop for the experience it offers. After all, motorbike taxi deliveries cannot replicate the allure of the combination of atmosphere, people, and coffee. This new wave of coffee in Indonesia is a case study in how technology and day-to-day commerce can no longer be treated separately, and is a fact that both parties should keep in mind. When it comes to kopi kekinian, fourth wave coffee, or whatever you would like to call it, the only question left to ask is how long this wave will swell.

And after, what’s next?