Aston utan, co-founder of Common Grounds and the man who has brought Melbourne’s St. Ali brand to Indonesia, arrives at his newly-opened coffee shop in Pondok Indah Mall 2 brandishing an intriguing gadget. He shows it to his baristas and explains how it works.
“It’s a coffee grind sifter,” he says while ordering a cup of piccolo latte, which is “a small cappuccino with the same amount of espresso but less milk. So it’s stronger”.
He takes a sip and then starts to talk about his love of coffee. “I can talk about coffee for days. You could die of starvation hearing it,” he jokes. “For myself, coffee has become more than just a business. It’s a passion and a hobby put into one. It was my mother’s idea to let me start a business with my friends, Joshua Tanu and Daryanto Witarsa. Before Common Grounds, we created Pandava Coffee in Rasuna Epicentrum, Kuningan in 2011. The business wasn’t very successful, but we learned a lot from our experience.”
Opened in 2014, the first outlet of Common Grounds is in Sudirman Citywalk. Besides serving superb coffee, it also offers sumptuous all-day breakfasts. “Common Grounds combines everything that we learned about Pandava. What we did wrong there, we fixed it,” says Utan.
Within three years, Common Grounds has expanded beyond Jakarta, opening outlets in Bandung and Surabaya. The newest one is in Pondok Indah Mall 2, Jakarta. Utan has a winning team. Joshua Tanu was Indonesia Barista Champion in 2014 and one of Common Grounds’ baristas, Iwan Setiawan, was the Indonesia Latte Art Champion in the same year.
Utan brought St. Ali to Jakarta last year, opening its first branch at Setiabudi One building. The brand is regarded as one of Melbourne’s finest coffee roasters and cafés. “We did it for the love of coffee and we thought it’s going to be fun,” he says. “It was like meeting your idols and a dream came true. A few of the coffee gods had been working at St. Ali. That’s why we wanted to bring the brand here. The founder, Salvatore Malatesta, and I have a good relationship. We have a similar philosophy for coffee and running a business.”
A barista comes to us and handed him a small jar of filter coffee. “It is Honduras coffee beans,” he explains and asks the barista a ceramic cup.
So, Common Grounds are not only serving Indonesian coffee beans? “We sourced coffee from all over the world, such as Africa, South America and Central America. We don’t want to limit ourselves. It’s not that I’m not nationalistic. I am. For me, I just don’t like to fall into trap that all of our products are the best. I don’t think any country should claimed has the best coffee,” he explains.
Talking about Common Grounds’ mission, Utan smiles. “Our mission is very simply to bring specialty coffee to Indonesia. We just want to share with people what the amazing potential of coffee can be. We take coffee seriously, even too seriously sometimes. But we don’t want to force people to take coffee like we do. It’s meant to be enjoyed and shared with others,” he says. “I believe that coffee shops should be sustainable themselves by providing for the neighbourhood. I have always believed that a coffee shop is a neighbourhood thing. It’s a community space. Your café should serve a 5-km radius. That’s your community, the ones who you should serve every day.”
At the end of conversation, Utan shares his love story with coffee. “So far, I have fallen in love with coffee three times,” he recalls. “The first time was when I had a cappuccino at Segafredo Café in Jakarta about eight years ago. It was so balanced. Cappuccino has everything in one cup – sweetness and bitterness, acidity and a velvety texture. Up until today, it is my favourite coffee. Second time was when I tasted filter coffee for the first time. Filter coffee is so simple and elegant. I drink it every morning, because I don’t want something too strong like a straight espresso. A filter coffee is like a good long kiss in the morning. The third time was when I had geisha coffee at Ninety Plus Coffee in Melbourne. Geisha coffee is very rare and amazing. I only drink it on special occasions. I’m waiting for my fourth time to fall in love with coffee.”
The full feature has been published in Prestige March 2017, The Food Issue. Click here to purchase.
Outfit: Louis Vuitton
Photography: Zaky Akbar
Styling: Gabriela Batti