Cultivating the Coffee Culture

Let’s admit it, some of us committed the same sin. When 3rd wave came, suddenly it looked cool for us to “hate” Starbucks, we wanted to be seen as anti-maintstream. Even until now, some people in coffee communities still believe it. However, when you’re in the scene for a while, you will then realize how stupid the idea was. Because, as many coffee experts said, in the end, coffee is business, to make profit. We have to admit, until now, Starbucks is still the king in the coffee shop business, whether in terms of profit, or management.

Disagree? Mention one of your favorite 3rd wave coffee shops, imagine they run 328 outlets all over Indonesia and hire more than 3.000 staffs. Honestly, do you really think they can maintain the quality (and of course, pride) as well as Starbucks? This time, we interview a man who’s responsible to keep the consistency of service and culture, some who maintain the “Starbucks Experience”, Mirza Luqman Effendy.

Please explain your daily activites.

Actually, I’m in the division of Human Resource Development and Culture. I focus on training, and keeping Starbucks’ culture. We want to ensure customers came and see Starbucks as their 3rd home, and they get Starbucks Experience.

The process to build the culture began when new staffs hired by HRD were doing training for 2 days, about what Starbucks all about, a bit explanation of brewing coffee, more to soft skills. Meanwhile, for the next 19 days, they will be trained in Starbucks outlet to learn the hard skills, taught by our Barista Trainers.

We tend to focus on soft skills because we now, it takes longer time to learn hard skills. We don’t need overly expert barista with no smile, we prefer someone who deliver service well, also to make coffee. Anybody can learn how to brew coffee, but it’s more challenging to make coffee according to what you feel at the time.

What do you mean by Starbucks Experience?

We called Starbucks staffs as partners, because they are one of the front liners for Starbucks Experience. A barista has to be knowledgeable, kind, smile often, helpful, and neat. In addition, we also have environment, it has to be clean and welcoming. Then we talk about products. Every company has its own standard, so do we. There’s a standard that has to be achieved by a barista, so whoever make the coffee, it will be consistent. Without one of these key factors, Starbucks
Experience wouldn’t be complete.

How many outlets and staffs you currently have?

We have 328 outlets and more than 3.000 staffs.

How do you manage them? As far as I know, managing a coffee shop is already quite a challenge for some owners.

Actually, what we really need is a learning culture, a culture where everyone felt that he has to learn, and love doing so. My team only consists of 9 people, of course we can’t cover all 3.000 something staffs, we can only give assessments and audit. What we’re focusing on are the Barista Trainer, Coffee Master, and Store Manager in each outlet.

They’re the one we keep an eye on, because the culture comes from these three people. If one of them is not passionate, it will affect the other, so we watch them closely. We often gather them from all over Indonesia, not only to give knowledge, but also to tell our vision and mission in the future, keep them motivated, give them bonus, and keep the level of competition among them to achieve their targets.

You said that coffee is just a media for human interaction. I’m interested with your statement.

I’ve been 16 years in the industry, but I’ve been drinking coffee since my college day. When Starbucks came to Indonesia in 2002, I joined them in 2003. At first, I got the love for coffee from my father. At the time, I was curious why my father needed to drink coffee everyday, even though my mother actually forbidded my from drinking, because she said it was unhealthy.

When I was in college, because of many assignments, I drank coffee to stay awake. I met a friend, he was a Torajan, he showed me that coffee was interesting. He gave me a book called “The Joy of Coffee”, after reading, I found out coffee is not only what I and my father always drink, we have Arabica, Robusta, and then different processings. I started wanting to try something different, I bought many instant coffee to taste the difference.

Until finally you landed on Starbucks.

After graduated, actually I worked as bartender. After a year, I grew tired because of the night shift, I didn’t enjoy the environment. When a friend me show me the vacancy in Starbucks, I applied even though I have no idea what Starbucks is. In the beginning, I have no passion here, merely working. After 6 months, I noticed we have Coffee Master and other programs.

The company is different, they encourage us to keep on learning. Starbucks makes an uninterested individual to be passionate. So, to me coffee is just a media, for
how to be better from now, until you have the dream you’ve wanted. I wouldn’t say coffee is not important, but, if it’s not for coffee, I wouldn’t know and meet you, for example. I have so many friends who was previously strangers, now we’ve become so close because of coffee. I can even travel around Indonesia and
other countries because of it.

I heard that Starbucks doesn’t just sell coffee.

Our philosophy is not coffee company serving people, we are people business serving coffee. It means, when we serve coffee, we focus on the person, are we prepared and kind when serving coffee? If there are better coffee than Starbucks out there, it’s possible. But we ensure that, what sets us apart from other is our barista is doing better.

From 2003 until now, how do you see the development of the coffee scene?

I’m always optimistic, I see change is always for the better. Back thenm if we’d like to know about coffee, we have to ask everywhere, Internet hasn’t become daily consumption, we have so little tutorials on Youtube. Thankfully, as I was in Starbucks, I can ask other partners outside Indonesia, even to our principal in

I see coffee as the beginning of advanced industry. It has become the lifestyle of people in big cities, perhaps not all cities in Indonesia. In the farm, we also develop new products through various ways of processing, so it’s very dynamic, both the upstream and downstream came up with innovations. I used to see coffee just as something to drink, we discuss and review it, it really has become something. If a person believes this industry is not enjoyable, perhaps he needs to

You’re famous in 3rd wave communities, are there any differences with Starbucks which was seen as part of 2nd wave?

No, to me, 1st ,2nd, 3rd wave are more to blocking for marketing tactics, meanwhile coffee doesn’t have that kind of category. Any waves still serve the same thing, coffee. Of course we have different brewing methods. Why we pick certain bean and method, because we have existed for 45 years. It’s not easy for an established company to change everything so quickly.

Some would say Starbucks is out of date, what I see is, our customers are very happy. People come here for consistency, we’re consistent from our first inception in 1971 until now, our roast profile and taste remain the same, very consistent.

On the other hand, we don’t close our eyes on the fuss out there, we created Starbucks Reserve and Reserve Roastery, but our core remains the same. I won’t boast on Starbucks, but it is a very good example for coffee industry in Indonesia. We need to have soul, not doing something today, and then changed it tomorrow just because someone say it’s obsolete. Companies can’t do that, can they?

Some new people in coffee seem to be anti Starbucks, what do you think?

It depends on personal maturity. The issue of anti something or anything it’s about maturity. I joined the coffee community since 2008, until now we support each other, for example, to hold events together. Coffee community must hug each other, we can’t go alone, of course there are some jealousy or competition going on, we as long as I’ve been here, I never feel that way.

Moreover, coffee and taste is about perception. I enjoy acidic coffee, meanwhile my father love full bodied coffee, if you give him acidic coffee, no matter how good, he wouldn’t like it, as simple as that. Be in 3rd wave, or even 4th, there will always be a coffee that makes us uncomfortable, it’s not about right or wrong, it’s a matter of preference. If we talk objectivity, as a Q-Grader, I see cupping score only on cupping table, it’s still green bean which hasn’t been into production line.

Is this coffee booming just temporary trend?

It depends on how you see it, do you see it as following the current, or you want to put your passion into products? Coffee shop business is not as simple as when you are able to brew coffee today, you’re gonna open a coffee shop the next day, you need proper preparation.

You have to know, what sets your coffee apart form other, We’re all selling the same stuff, coffee. If it’s latte, everyone is using milk. What makes us different is the  person who serves the coffee. To me, it’s not about which coffee to brew, it’s about human interaction. Coffee shop business requires customers to return daily in order to make profit. Therefore, we need to maintain relationship.

As I remember, there’s a data which stated that we have only explored 1% of our potential 10% market in specialty coffee business. It means there is 9% opportunity for anybody. The growing number of coffee shops will help us to raise coffee consumption. 5-10 years ago, when I visit a coffee shop, I felt the service was cold, merely to serve coffee. It’s different story now, everybody is nice, the service is warm, this is what the industry need.

How do the rest of the world see Indonesian coffee?

Indonesian coffee is one of the best coffee in the world, our uniqueness can’t be found, even in Ethiopian or Brazillian coffee, the notes are completely different. Europe and America are our biggest importers, they love spicy notes and full body. Personally, I enjoy Indonesian coffee form Aceh to Papua. Starbucks also has
some special limited bean for Reserve, such as bean from Lake Toba. Every Indonesian coffee in Starbucks is selling very well, Sumatera coffee is even one of our best sellers.

With the vast growing number of new modern coffee shops, do they disrupt Starbucks’ business?

Look, when we wanted to penetrate to smaller towns like Samarinda, Jambi, Pekanbaru, the coffee community there, which happens to know me, ask, “why do you guys open here?” We want to build coffee culture and raise coffee consumption, and when we penetrate to smaller towns, people were more exposed to coffee culture. Our customers today might be yours tomorrow, we never forbid anyone, do we? After 3 months, they thanked me for making the coffee culture much better. We need some sort of anchor for this culture.

What we’re fighting for is how to convert non-coffee drinkers into coffee drinkers, but you can’t tell them that this is the right or wrong way to have coffee. Let them explore freely, that’s why, Starbucks also has customization where you’re free to personalized your coffee, because your drink is yours. To me, coffee is something that’s very personalized.

To you, what’s the most interesting part of this business?

Friend. Coffee is all about friendship. Wherever I go, even to an unknown festival, in just minutes, I can befriend with a stranger just because talking about coffee. Coffee is very connecting people, like what always Nokia says. I often communicate with coffee farmers in Colombia via email. Even though we barely know or even meet each other before, we got along very well.

Tell us your unforgettable coffee experience.

It was in 2012 when I visited PTPN XII in Mount Ijen. There was this humble coffee shop, or even a stall , I didn’t even recall it had a name. It was very small, perhaps only 4x4m, the place didn’t even have any glass, just wire partition, it also serves simple food as fried banana. When I was about to drink the coffee made with the local bean, the owner served chopped brown sugar, he taught me that it’s better to bite the brown sugar before drink the coffee. I was impressed even people in mountain can be so humble and he taught me different kind of hospitality that can't be found, even in cities.