The Uplifting Kouji Genki Project

by Runi Cholid
27th January 2022
From the quiet neighbourhood of Cibulan, Kouji Genki Project serves a delectable selection of home-cooked treats and beverages, all the while providing opportunity and space for individuals living with autism to thrive.

At a time when the phrase ‘hidden gem’ has been so watered down by the massive wave of internet content, Kouji Genki Project properly befits its original meaning, and rightly so. Tucked amidst residential houses, the unassuming café can be easily missed—its exterior absent of frills and the usual distinguishing marks of a coffee shop. 

But upon stepping in, greeted with the cordial nature of the regulars, eclectic yet tasteful decor and even musical notes wafting from children’s piano lessons on Saturdays, any lingering doubt about the place will soon be put at ease. One can immediately sense the hospitable and seemingly therapeutic charm enveloping the intimate interior.

On most days, captaining the barista station would be Kouji himself, the namesake and owner of the cafe. Outwardly, he likes to keep things lighthearted: when not bantering with Yumiko (his mother) in the kitchen or making TikTok videos with café manager Ana, Kouji can be found exchanging ‘silly’ dialogues with his teammates. But when it comes to his café project, he takes his mission seriously, striving to create a platform for others who, like him, are living with syndromes that fall within the autism spectrum.

Decorating the walls of the coffee shop are artworks by the children of Yayasan Indriya—an educational non-profit organisation founded by Kouji’s parents to help the development of kids with autism—embedded with upcycled materials from a Japanese glass art workshop named Fusion Factory. Recognising that these kids will eventually require a platform where they can work and gain independence as adults, Kouji hopes to provide them opportunities at his café upon their graduation.

As of now, Kouji tends to drink orders himself alongside his first understudy, Fadil. For the classics, go with the Hot Latte. The coffee beans here come from the Gayo region in Aceh and, lately, an organic plantation in Bali as well. Lightly roasted, the drink usually comes with Kouji’s trademark small heart-shaped latte art. While for something more unique, the Matcha Dream is a good choice, as it boasts a refreshing combination of espresso, matcha and milk.

To accompany the drinks, Yumiko, who hailed from Osaka, has utilised her background in nutrition to prepare a delightful range of Japanese meals and desserts, which she personally cooks herself. Many of them come with gluten-free, dairy-free as well as vegan options, and white sugar is replaced with its palm counterpart, mindful of the dietary restrictions of neurodivergent individuals.

Her Yaki Chicken Gyoza and Matcha Daifuku Ogura are definite must-tries, each nailing down the flavours with distinction. A few bites into Yumiko’s cooking would be enough to attest that she is a master at her craft, and what was to be a quick afternoon snack could turn into a meal—in which case her best-selling Chicken Katsu Curry can serve to satisfy one’s appetite.

With such a team set-up, Kouji Genki Project can sometimes face unique obstacles: Kouji might lose his good mood or the number of orders might overwhelm the small kitchen team. As such, each table comes with a disclaimer that kindly requests patrons’ patience. Even so, pleasant discoveries within the café have earned it a respectable number of regulars; whether it is due to Kouji’s lattes, Yumiko’s excellent cooking, the mission that the café embodies or all of them at once.