Exploring Coffee and Its Stories at Dharma Boutique Roastery, Home to Semarang’s Oldest Coffee Roasting

Exploring Coffee and Its Stories at Dharma Boutique Roastery, Home to Semarang's Oldest Coffee Roasting 2

javaprivatetour.com – Ever wandered through the bustling streets of Semarang’s Pecinan and stumbled upon a house that holds the history of the coffee industry? Well, tucked away amidst the row of shop houses lies a two-story white-painted house that stands as a testament to the rich coffee heritage of the region. What makes it stand out? It’s none other than the Dharma Boutique Roastery, where you can not only enjoy a cup of coffee but also delve into its fascinating stories.

Dharma Boutique Roastery

Located on Jalan Wotgandul Barat, known for its culinary delights in Pecinan, this house catches the eye with its colonial-style architecture. But what truly sets it apart is the simple signboard that reads ‘Dharma Boutique Roastery’ and the distinct aroma of coffee wafting through the open windows during the roasting process.

True to its name, the house shelters a ‘roastery,’ a continuation of the Margo Redjo Coffee Factory: one of the largest coffee factories in the colonial era, now led by Widayat Basuki Dharmowiyono (Tan Tjoan Pie) or affectionately known as Pak Bas, the third generation.

Margo Redjo Coffee Factory one of the largest coffee factories in the colonial era

The roasting activity is carried out with a Hanneman machine, a Dutch-made wheel-shaped roaster that has been in use since the factory was established in 1915. Operated manually by Mbak Sri, who has 20 years of experience, the roasting process emits the distinctive aroma of coffee, resembling the crackling sound of ripe popcorn, and billows of dark smoke indicating perfectly roasted coffee beans.

From initially 1 liter of green beans, 600 grams of dark brown coffee beans, as we know them, are produced. This process becomes an intriguing attraction for visitors, many of whom are witnessing traditional coffee roasting for the first time, especially with such historic equipment.

A variety of coffee beans from across Indonesia is available, each with its unique process: Gayo, Kayu Aro, Ciwidey, Kintamani, Bajawa, to Wamena, displayed in vintage glass jars reminiscent of grandma’s kitchen. One particularly intriguing variant is the Lanang coffee from Temanggung, believed to boost stamina in men. It’s named ‘Lanang’ (man in Javanese) because the coffee beans used are of a monokotil type, unable to germinate, unlike most coffee beans that are dicotyledonous and capable of producing new seeds like women.

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These coffee beans can be purchased whole or ground into powder to take home. Alternatively, you can savor a cup of coffee in the tranquil courtyard shaded by an ancient tanjung tree, offering a relaxed atmosphere akin to enjoying coffee in your own backyard.

you can savor a cup of coffee in the tranquil courtyard shaded by an ancient tanjung tree

The charming house, serving as a backdrop, is particularly appealing to architecture enthusiasts, photographers, and history buffs, with its Neo-Classical landhuis style, estimated to have been built around the 1850s and still inhabited by the fifth generation of Pak Bas’s family. Since its establishment, there have been minimal alterations, except for the addition of a terrace with Art Deco-style pillars in 1927, accompanied by two European-style lion statues instead of the typical Chinese ones. Due to its coffee-related activities, the house, listed as a cultural heritage site, is commonly known as the ‘Coffee House.’

The Journey of Margo Redjo

the Margoredjo Coffee company car is seen decorated to participate in the promotional parade of Pasar Malam Semarang at that time (1929)
An old photo owned by Rumah Kopi. In this photo, the Margoredjo Coffee company car is seen decorated to participate in the promotional parade of Pasar Malam Semarang at that time (1929).
In the front yard of Rumah Kopi which remains in the same condition until now. Only the trees are different.

Koffiebanderiej (Coffee Roastery) Margo Redjo was founded in 1915 in Cimahi by Tan Tiong Ie. He hailed from the influential Tan family, known for producing leaders in the Semarang Chinese community and holding the salt sales (pacht) rights. In 1925, the factory relocated to its hometown, eventually settling in the backyard of Tan’s own house, where it stands today.

Koffiebanderiej (Coffee Roastery) Margo Redjo

According to the De Locomotief newspaper in 1947, the factory, which translates to ‘Path of Prosperity’ in Javanese, reached its zenith in 1929 when it supplied most of the coffee needs in the Dutch East Indies. Referring to Alexander Clavier’s dissertation, Tan Tiong Ie pioneered marketing strategies by creating various brands with products of varying qualities and prices to suit consumers’ preferences.

For instance, the powdered coffee ‘Sumber Urip’ adorned with a logo of farmers working in the fields was specifically targeted at consumers from the lower economic strata. The Tan family also ventured into derivative coffee products such as hopjes, classic Dutch coffee candies.

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Tan Tiong Ie himself was noted in the book ‘Orang-Orang Tionghoa Jang Terkemoeka di Djawa’ (1935) as the first Chinese person to export coffee, with an annual quantity reaching one million kilograms (Galikano, 2017).

Evidence of this prosperity can be seen in the giant Eureka coffee roasting machines, with capacities of 60 and 120 kilograms, as well as coffee bean grinding machines to turn roasted beans into powder and vintage bicycles once used for product distribution.

There are also two German-made coffee roasting machines specially acquired during the military aggression. Legend has it that Dutch troops, needing coffee supplies, couldn’t operate the ‘Eureka’ roasters due to power outages caused by the war. Hence, they purchased roasting machines along with diesel engines from ships for power. During that time, there were long queues of Dutch trucks waiting to transport coffee from the factory.

All these machines are still stored in the former factory premises in the backyard of the house, although they are no longer in use since coffee production has steadily declined. The glory of the Margo Redjo Coffee Factory was relatively short-lived, with the downturn starting from the economic slump of the 1930s.

Even during the Japanese occupation, Tan Liang Tjay, the second generation, had to move some machines to his residence in the Surakarta Palace area to safeguard them from Japanese confiscation for war equipment.

These two phenomena indeed dimmed the coffee industry’s prospects, with the economic depression causing coffee prices to plummet, and the presence of Japan in World War II wreaking havoc on coffee plantations (Rahman et.al., 2011).

Survival and Revival

The interior of Dharma Boutique Roastery Semarang

Despite operating at a much-reduced capacity, the factory continued to roast and sell coffee beans. The large machines have retired and been replaced by simple roasting machines still in use today. There were times when Pak Bas had to struggle to keep the business afloat. However, a breath of fresh air swept in when the trend of coffee consumption as a lifestyle, especially among young people, emerged, largely fueled by the circulation of the film ‘Filosofi Kopi’ (2015).

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This trend prompted media coverage of the Margo Redjo coffee factory, gradually attracting more visitors from both inside and outside the city. Thus, the concept of a ’boutique roastery’ was born, open for visitors to witness the coffee-making process from roasting to brewing, and enjoy a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

It’s not just about drinking coffee; it’s also about delving into its process and priceless stories, all while enjoying the educational and interactive services provided, often with Pak Bas himself among the visitors, eagerly answering their queries about his family’s business journey.

So, whether you’re a coffee enthusiast or just looking for a unique cultural experience, a visit to Dharma Boutique Roastery promises an unforgettable journey through Semarang’s rich coffee heritage. And for those first-time visitors to Java, Indonesia, Java Private Tour could be your ideal companion, offering not just a glimpse into Semarang’s coffee culture but also a seamless exploration of Java’s myriad attractions, all tailored to your preferences. With English-fluent, friendly, and knowledgeable local guides, flexible schedules, and a fleet of private vehicles ranging from sedans to buses, Java Private Tour ensures a memorable and personalized travel experience. Plus, it comes highly recommended by embassies of friendly nations satisfied with its services. So, what are you waiting for? BOOK HERE to embark on your Java adventure with Java Private Tour today!

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