Summer 2019. It was a scorching hot day when I ordered a big glass of iced tea and a cup of affogato in a compact, beautiful cafe right by a rice field in Sleman with two of my best friends. The tea was so good and refreshing, served in a basic tall glass with no straw. There were straws to take, metal ones. This experience surprised me of how local business in my hometown has started thinking about creating a statement to be an environmentally-conscious business. This cafe was run by 3 young, idealist coffee-lovers. Most importantly, I am happy to know that this cafe was not the only one. I visited many more and they never failed to give me such a good feeling of hope and optimism. These moments got me reflecting upon many things. One of which was related to my former relationship with a world-famous coffee brand.
I used to go to Starbucks every three or four days when I was 20 to 23. I was a regular customer that I know the names of all baristas in at least two branches in Yogyakarta and they knew me as well. One of them is my best friend so I always loved to go there and see him. I was a member, too where I got exclusive cards and discounts every now and then. You could say that I was influenced and exposed to Hollywood celebrities more than most people of my age in a small city in Indonesia. I took a picture every time I sip my drink with that green straw. I never forgot to post the notes the barista made on my cup online. I collected those signature tumblers from cities around the world. It was a series of proud moments. I wasn’t looking for recognition but I did get it. No idea if it was for the cup or the coffee or for an idea creation that surrounded the statement made by my posts.
It has been almost 4 years until a month ago that I have not purchased another cup of cafe misto at Starbucks – a simple yet comforting type of drink that I like the most. I have been living in Sweden for 2 years and I wanted to try local coffee shops instead of going to chain shops – not only for the sake of experiencing the culture but also for supporting local businesses. Plus, none of my friends like going there as they thought it was overpriced. It was definitely a surprise to me because I thought considering that they are used to this higher currency, the price was okay. But, nope. That was one of my initial realizations. I had been supporting a business that is out of my league, financially. But I did it for the gram. I felt sad but at the same time inspired, that I continued going to local shops instead. And man, they offer something I have been looking for – a feeling of home and originality.
I visited Starbucks for the longest time a couple of weeks ago where I ordered what was my second favorite drink: classic signature chocolate with one espresso shot. I paid about 60,000 rupiah (40 SEK / 4 Euro) for a grande. I was not too surprised that I got what I remembered as a good cup of strong, bittersweet chocolate drink. Something I admire Starbucks for, the way they train the baristas properly so that the drinks are high quality and standardized. They might be also the one that set the trend of calling customer’s names over an order, putting personalized notes on a cup, etc. This experience got me thinking, real deep about what I have learned.
I missed out on a lot of things in my hometown for something that can be found nearly anywhere in the world.
I missed out on small, cozy, non-air-conditioned coffee shops with natural fresh air, serving excellent coffee for not even half the price. I missed out on the ingredients that were locally-sourced, which means – I missed out on something that might be more sustainable in the way it has been produced and distributed. By supporting these young Indonesian idealists, I might help local businesses and coffee planters – a profession that is commonly considered underpaid by international trade.
I feel mostly guilty. Not only for the local businesses that I have been neglecting, but also for the environment. I cannot imagine how much I have been using single-use plastic cups and straws for the sake of cool posts on my social media. I still can see lots of people, especially in Indonesia are still doing the same. Sure now they have reduced the usage of straw but the cup is still plastic. There must be a reason why Starbucks is still up and running successfully in Indonesia despite our ratio between salary and price per cup of coffee. There must be still a huge demand for it.
Right before I left Sweden, the one and only Starbucks chain in Gothenburg – the second biggest city in Sweden – closed down permanently. In Gothenburg one can still find many chain coffee shops, too with an exact same concept. So I wouldn’t say the same problem is not there. Still, I have no clue why the queen mermaid has lost in the Swedish market. I hope it was for a good reason for both sides or more.
Now to end this blog: I must say thank you to Starbucks for the inspiration and learning points.
I am writing this blog as my expression of concern and at the same time, pride. I am proud of how Indonesia is moving towards a good direction in silence. Through the minds and hands of the young people who are now doing something with passion and good intentions. We are not loud when we want something. We just do it. Like Bali. I mean, who knew that suddenly this beautiful island banned plastics for good. Like Surabaya. Who knew this second biggest city in Indonesia pioneered the eco-friendly bus through payment with plastic bottles. Most importantly, Indonesia, you are better at many things. I just hope you have more supporters. Of course, you are not perfect. And I never said this out loud, but it turns out that I love you more than I knew I would.