A Familiar Stillness in Warung Kopi

by Hilda Raina
3rd November 2021
With a modest selection of instant coffee sachets as its brew of choice, a warung kopi, or warkop, has long provided Jakartans with a brief retreat right within the city centre. As we slowly resume our pre-pandemic pace, in this photo essay, we reflect on the significance of their presence to the city’s identity and the people who find shelter under their roofs.

In contrast to the caffeinated-chatter and open laptops typical of most coffee houses, inside a warung kopi, or warkop, a cup of coffee is served with uncontrived folksiness. Snapped in the city’s back roads and alleyways, these photographs document the simple joy that comes from an unhurried sitting of a midday coffee break in Jakarta’s OG coffee shops and a token of the city’s togetherness. 

Modestly adorned, a warkop comes in all shapes and sizes. An extension of a ‘warung’, or street-side kiosk, they’re held up like makeshift tents and sell a trickle of refreshments and day-to-day necessities: from bottled iced tea, cup noodles, gorengan (fritters) to mosquito repellent and shampoo sachets that are commonly displayed overhead or behind the counter in long strands. But the essential remains the iconic instant coffee, efficiently crafted from a sachet and thermos water—a true delight nonetheless.

On any given afternoon, many wander inside and find themselves sitting on brightly-coloured plastic stools or wooden benches; blue-collar workers out on a quick lunch break, an ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver pausing in between orders, or bypassers taking shelter from the unforgiving weather. Some days, the weather might dictate the crowdedness of a warkop, but what it never does is strip the place of its cultural significance as a hub where life stories, personal ambitions and ideas form an organic solidarity of the people, with a side of chatty banters.

Set against the backdrop of the city’s noise and motion without much covering, it hardly seems a tranquil space. Yet, although its outward appearance doesn’t yield much confidence, warkop continues to lure frequenters to return for more than just cheap coffee. In the midst of the city’s hubbub, its greatest appeal is this: it’s ability to mesh familial warmth and stillness in its humble home.