by Tasa Nugraza Barley

Previously published on The Jakarta Globe

The first question I asked when I arrived in Ambon was: “What’s the best coffee shop in town?”

I needed a cup to wake up and also because I love the taste and the daily ritual. There’s nothing better than enjoying a cup of coffee while chatting with a good friend. And everybody in Ambon — from a security officer at my hotel to an ojek driver — pointed me to one coffee shop: Kopi Tradisi Joas (Traditional Joas Coffee).

As luck would have it, my hotel was situated in the center of the city, and just a few minutes from this highly recommended shop. But to arrive with style and flare, I decided to take a becak (rickshaw).

Kopi Joas isn’t the kind of fancy coffee shop I am used to in Jakarta. It is understated, and certainly nothing special or eye-catching from the outside, though I did find the display of the shop’s name attractive. And with dozens of motorcycles parked out front, I knew that I’d found just the spot for coffee.

But it was the atmosphere inside that really struck me, and it felt like love at first sight. In Jakarta, coffee shops can be quiet, sterile places where people sip their brew in silence and ignore their companions. But Kopi Joas was packed with mostly adults who were having casual conversations. It was a bright day, and the place was teeming with good vibes.

Kopi Joas is a spacious, subdued cafe filled with wooden chairs, marble-topped tables and green potted plants. The ambience could only be described as comfortable and cozy. Ambon gets hot during the day, and Kopi Joas is not air-conditioned, but a roofless courtyard in the middle of the shop allows the breeze to work its magic. As I can attest, a few lazy hours at the coffee shop is an extremely pleasant way to pass the time.

I asked for the best coffee they had as a waitress approached me . She recommended the kopi susu (coffee with milk), and explained that it was everyone’s favorite. While I usually take my coffee black, I felt like a cup of coffee and milk would be a nice change. The coffee came in a unique Chinese mug.

Now it was the moment of truth. I had to stir the coffee (as instructed by the waitress) because it wasn’t perfectly blended with the milk yet. I couldn’t wait any longer for my first coffee experience in Ambon.

The verdict? I enjoyed the strong, sweet blend of the beans and milk. It was the perfect combination.

Joas Layan, the owner of the shop, happened to be there when I was visiting. Joas is a 52-year-old businessman who never shies away from serving and talking to his customers.

He moved to Ambon from a small village in Maluku Tenggara in 1972. He went into the coffee business in 1983 and worked at other shops before buying his own business and naming it after himself in 1999.

Joas also owns two smaller branches in Ambon, and employs some 50 people in total. Every day, he processes 300 to 400 kilograms of coffee beans for his three branches. “Coffee is my destiny,” he said.

When asked the secret behind his tasty blend, Joas said he mixed only highest quality arabica and robusta coffee beans. “Maintaining the quality of the coffee is very critical for me,” he said, adding that the entire mixing process takes place in his kitchen.

Joas emphasized the importance of coffee shops for people in Ambon. “People here love to spend hours drinking coffee with their friends.”

Besides a long list of exotic coffees, Kopi Joas also offers an abundance of tempting snacks, and I sampled the cafe’s traditional banana dish, pisang mangkal (bananas hung). A bit confused, I learned the dish consisted of fried bananas, or the traditional pisang goreng, but were cooked with less flour than the fried bananas typically found in Jakarta. It was a perfect dessert to go with my coffee.

Time flies when you’re drinking caffeine and eating well, and I couldn’t believe how long I’d been relaxing at Kopi Joas. For the rest of my three days in Ambon, I found myself going back to Kopi Joas with loyal regularity. And even though I’m a black coffee kind of guy, I kept ordering the kopi susu.
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