July 23, 2020

Indonesia’s Iced Coffee Revolution

In recent years, es kopi susu (iced coffee with milk) has become incredibly popular in Indonesia. The premise is simple; to make it, you mix black coffee made as cold brew, espresso, or tubruk (unfiltered coffee, similar to Turkish coffee), with sugar syrup, condensed milk or creamer, and ice cubes. It is now one of Indonesia’s most popular beverages, especially in Jakarta.

Es kopi susu’s popularity in Jakarta is interesting. Jakarta has a population of over 10 million, with some of the world’s worst traffic, meaning that getting across the city often takes longer than expected. Ride-sharing apps such as Grab and Gojek have gained popularity as an alternative way to travel, but both also offer food delivery services, allowing consumers to buy food and drink from the palm of their hand – including es kopi susu.

So just why is es kopi susu so popular in Jakarta, and why does it have such a unique relationship with these ride-sharing platforms? Read on to find out.

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Es kopi’s sudden growth is often credited to popular South Jakarta coffee chain, Toko Kopi Tuku, who began selling it some time in the early 2010s.

Research conducted by Indonesian coffee company Toffin shows that 6 out of 10 millennial and Generation Z customers say they “love” es kopi susu. Not only is the beverage generally cheaper than other milk-based drinks, it also comes in a wide range of flavours.

Why Is Online Delivery For Es Kopi Susu So Popular?

In Jakarta, whether you’re downtown or in a quaint residential neighborhood, you’re never too far from an es kopi susu kiosk. Many of these small businesses don’t have espresso machines, so stick to selling es kopi made with cold brew or tubruk. Furthermore, many of them are operated from people’s homes, meaning that delivery is a more viable option.

Indah Febriyyani, the owner of MAU Kopi & Minuman, tells me that ride-sharing apps helped her to sell es kopi to her neighbors at times when normal coffee shops would not be open. In situations like these, the apps take on the logistical costs for home-based businesses, meaning that they can enter the market more easily and operate with greater flexibility.

According to VP Corporate Affairs Food & Merchant at Gojek, Rosel Lavina, 96% of the merchants for the company’s GoFood services are small to medium businesses. In 2018 and 2019, coffee was one of the four most popular food and beverage products delivered, accounting for 16 million orders in the same period. 

Es kopi delivery is not just limited to the smaller companies, however. Bigger Indonesian coffee chains, such as Kopi Kulo and Janji Jiwa, have opened shops with little or no seating in busy areas, and dedicated them almost entirely to takeaway and delivery orders. Just a few years ago, it would have seemed counterintuitive to open a coffee shop without offering quality service and customer experience, but today, people want es kopi without the hassle.

In short, online delivery apps provide a way for both small and large businesses to thrive in big, busy cities. They allow consumers to order drinks like es kopi from miles away without leaving their seat.

Lee este artículo en español La Revolución Del Café Helado en Indonesia

The Local Twist

There is no single correct way to prepare es kopi susu. In fact, one of the most popular es kopi recipes includes gula aren, an Indonesian brown sugar, which gives the drink a caramel flavour. Some kiosks mix the coffee with avocado, Marie Regal biscuits (or other rich tea-style biscuits), ginger, and even cendol, a South East Asian dessert made with rice flour jelly and coconut milk. 

Es kopi has also started to emerge in the Indonesian specialty coffee market. A number of specialty coffee shops now offer a “specialty es kopi”, which is usually made with 100% arabica coffee and a homemade caramel sauce. 

Delivered At Scale

When Jakarta went into lockdown in April 2020, a number of local businesses adapted by selling pre-mixed one-litre bottles of es kopi susu. The idea was initially popularised by Toko Kopi Tuku, the chain that many believe started the es kopi craze in the first place. After just three months, the business had sold more than 53,000 pre-mixed es kopi bottles over the internet.

Just a few weeks later, a number of venture capitalists – including Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin – invested US $109 million into another major es kopi chain, Kopi Kenangan. It’s also believed that a number of these investors come from a background in tech, perhaps because of the unique relationship that es kopi has with delivery and ride-sharing apps.

There might be no single “right” way of making es kopi susu, but one thing is for sure: this beverage is successful because it’s simple to make and easy to buy.

In Jakarta, it has taken both consumers and coffee businesses alike by storm. And considering the success of chains that produce es kopi susu, it could soon be sold in coffee shops elsewhere around the world.

Enjoyed this? Then read How To Make Japanese Iced Coffee

Photo credits: Wirasathya Darmaja, Michelle Anindya, Seniman Coffee Studio