On the morning of 11th September, a few coffee drinkers seeking their Thursday fix at Common Grounds Coffee Roastery in Jakarta, Indonesia were treated to an odd sight. The usual baristas behind the bar appeared to have been replaced by what looked like a western four-man boy band. It was clear that something was afoot. For those in the know however, this scene could only mean one thing:
St. Ali was in town.
Not a boy band (exactly) but a week long coffee pop-up, this deployment of dashing Australian men marked the fourth time this year that our friends and partners at Melbourne's St. Ali Family have installed themselves at some far-flung locale. Seoul, London, and Milan were natural predecessors to Jakarta. And from 11-17 September, Matt Perger, Jamie Thomson, Lachlan Ward, and Ben Morrow took over the espresso and brew bars at Common Grounds, a staple cafe within of central Jakarta’s Citywalk Sudirman food mall.
Common Grounds is actually a relatively new venue—the café was opened earlier in March this year by partners Aston Utan, Yoshua ‘Yoshi’ Tanu, Daryanto ‘Yanto’ Witarsa, and Philip Chen. Despite its somewhat youthful status in the Jakarta coffee scene, the establishment boasts some impressive bona fides. It is home to both this year’s Indonesian Barista Champion (‘Yoshi’ Tanu) and Latte Art Champion (Iwan ‘Johni’ Setiawan). In fact, it was the participation of these two baristas in their respective world championships—in Rimini, Italy, and Melbourne—that led to meeting St. Ali, and the eventual organisation of this event.
For the week, Common Grounds exclusively served St. Ali coffee beans roasted in Melbourne and brought over to Indonesia. The selection was aimed at mirroring exactly what was being served at St. Ali’s South Melbourne café at the same time—giving patrons the same taste experiences in both locales.
For espresso and espresso-based beverages, customers had St. Ali’s Orthodox Blend (two Brazilians, one Colombian) and Kenya Mutheka F.C.S. to choose from. Shots were pulled on the café’s matte black 2-group V2 Slayer, and ground on a pair of Mahlkönig K30s with custom graphics (one from MICE 2014, and the other from WBC 2014 in Rimini).
Filter selections of St. Ali’s Colombia Finca Santa Ana, Kenya Mutheka F.C.S., and Kenya Kamagogo Factory were ground with a Mahlkönig EK43, and prepared using Hario V60s, AeroPresses, and Chemexes. These filter roast options were also available as ‘coffee shots’–filter strength coffees prepared exclusively on a pressure adjusted La Marzocco GS/3.
Keen to push the boundaries, the pop-up also gave St. Ali baristas the opportunity to introduce coffee drinkers to ‘the Uncharted Zone’–coffees lying between typical filter and espresso strengths. And alongside regular coffee serving operations, members of the St Ali team were also engaged in a series of masterclasses held throughout the week.
St. Ali Head Barista and self-professed science lover, Jamie Thomson, was on hand for his ‘Manual Brewing Class’–enlightening participants about the intricacies of brewing coffee, through a sequence of focused cuppings.
Australia’s ‘Latte Art Cowboy’, Ben Morrow, drew out his milk jugs in his ‘Latte Art Master’ classes, and guided aspiring latte artists in the artful, Instagram worthy manipulation of steamed milk.
International Coffee Champion, Matt Perger, got down and technical in his ‘VST, WTF? Coffee Science Lecture’, extolling the use of refractometry theory to make better coffee consistently. Mr. Perger, who is the Director of Coffee at St Ali, also ran a ‘New Age Espresso Workshop’, guiding attendees in proper barista techniques and the manipulation of brewing parameters to pull tasty shots.
The evening of September 15th was a particular focal point for the pop-up, and saw the café rocking with excitement as Ben Morrow dueled away with 31 other competitors in an East vs. West latte art smackdown of epic proportions. When the dust settled however, it was a Bandung barista, Irma Purnama, who was the last one left standing.
Common Grounds Coffee Roastery typically caters to a diverse range of patrons—be it central Jakarta office workers, students from the nearby arts and business schools, or the weekend brunch crowd. Aside from locals, the weeklong pop-up drew visitors from various Indonesian cities, such as Bandung, Surabaya, Lombok, and Medan, as well as Southeast Asian travellers from Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Besides the cultural intersections, the event also witnessed the congregation of coffee professionals (baristas, roasters etc.), café/restaurant owners, and home enthusiasts—all keen to learn and experience what was on offer.
So next time a boy band materializes behind the counter of your favourite cafe—don't worry—they might just be here to deliver just the serious coffee knowledge you've always wanted.