FIRST DESTINATION SINCE PANDEMIC STRIKES
Perhaps it sounds a little bit strange to make Starbucks as my travel bucket list, where I can find its branches in every shopping mall, shop in shop inside big supermarkets and even there’s one nearby my house in Jakarta.
Nonetheless, Starbucks Reserve Dewata in Bali is exceptional because it’s the biggest Starbucks outlet in Southeast Asia and the second biggest in the world. Operating since January 12, 2019, it has become one of the most happening places to hang out. In the same year, it was the last time I came Bali, yet somehow I didn’t a chance to visit Starbucks Reserve Dewata. Then, as you know, COVID-19 pandemic strikes.
I finally returned to Bali in December 2021, a few days before Christmas. The virus was still there, though, but at least travel restrictions were less intense than before. The situation was under control before Omicron screwed up everything we’ve been fighting for. To be honest, it was my first time to travel outside Jakarta since pandemic strikes in Indonesia and the rest of the world. So yeah, I was more than excited to spend a Christmas holiday far from home.
Having arrived in Ngurah Rai International Airport, we directly headed to Starbucks Reserve Dewata on Sunset Road no. 77 because it’s not too far from the airport, approximately 15 to 20 minutes by car.
COFFEE SANCTUARY, NOT JUST CAFE
The wave-patterned red brick façade with Starbucks logo looked eye-catching, but it didn’t show enough how gigantic Starbucks Reserve Dewata was until we walked into the store. As the reception desk official greeted us, it felt like being in an exclusive lounge.
Luxury is part of the charm, that’s for sure. However, the main added values lie in the concept of coffee sanctuary and local wisdom in the details of the store design. Starbucks also would like to educate their customers on where their favorite coffee drinks comes from and how they are made, as well as informing them about its participation in sustainability in fun and entertaining way.
The reception counter was linked directly to the courtyard with 10 by 10 sqm arabica coffee plantation, representing an example of coffee plantations owned by farmers in Indonesia that usually come in that exact size. Starbucks doesn’t harvest coffee from the plantation inside the store, though, especially coffee doesn’t grow well in hot weather places.
Make sure you don’t miss the bright-coloured mural of farmers harvesting coffee plants and and a zoetrope, an animation device showing phases of the growth of coffee tree, situated in the middle of the plantation. If you love being surrounded by something close to nature, the courtyard will be the best spot to sit down and zip some coffee. You can sit on a rattan swing, too.
Since we were looking for an aircon room, we preferred being inside the two-storey glass building with very high ceiling. Not only does the American-based coffee house look lavish, extravagant, modern and hype that attract visitors around the world, but also the infiltrated traditional elements make it unique, distinctive and unforgettable.
Among others, the impressive 9-meter-high wooden sculpture on the wall depicting coffee culture and coffee producing regions in Indonesia, a giant woven bamboo hanging decoration representing fragrant coffee smoke, a terracing rice field shape bar table made of teak wood, wooden cart and a wooden door handle with the engraved mermaid’s tail, which is part of the Starbucks logo.
There’s also a digital wall, showing the process of making quality coffee, by pressing, turning and sliding buttons. Suppose you can’t get enough with coffee plantation, go to the 2nd floor to see coffee seedling under the glass roof showing coffee trees from 1 month old until 1 year. Additionally, there’s a theater specifically giving information about Starbucks Farmer Support Center, emphasizing on how Starbucks collaborate with farmers in Indonesia.
Well, even though coffee lesson wasn’t my main intention of visiting Starbucks Reserve, I was glad to know that Starbucks doesn’t only focus its business on profit, but also helping farmers to reach more prosperity by purchasing their coffee beans, providing farming tools, education and high quality fertilizer.
Basically all food and drinks are just the same in both varieties and price as those at other Starbucks outlets, except Dewata Latte or Pear Tea, that are only available at Starbucks Reserve Dewata. We finally tried a grande cup of Dewata Latte, simply described as coffee milk with original Balinese brown sugar or “kopi gula aren” in Indonesian. It was pretty good, we loved the bittersweet balance between coffee, milk and brown sugar.
Polo shirts, umbrellas, mugs, tumblers, teddy bears with either printed or embroidered lotus logo and the word “Dewata” are typical Starbucks Reserve Dewata souvenirs you won’t get in any other Starbucks branches. They are nice memorable things to go, all you need to have is a willingness to spend more. I personally think it’s pricey for local standard, like a polo shirt over Rp. 500,000 ($ 37) per piece. But I think it’s quite normal for develop countries’ living standard.
THE REVIVAL OF TOURISM IN BALI?
It was almost 5 pm when we got there, and nearly all seats were full despite its huge capacity. We were expecting to get comfortable sofa seats to chill out longer, yet we didn’t get any, as everybody at the store thought the same way. The situation was understandable, though, considering it was coffee hour in high season. Only an hour later did we finally get our turn to occupy the cozy sofa.
Considering that COVID-19 still strikes and has made tourism industry tumbling down, it seemed that tourism in Bali has started back on its feet. However, I noticed that there was a slight different kind of crowds compared to the last time I visited the island in 2019.
Since the spread of the virus is usually more intense during holiday season, the government made travel restrictions to keep the situation in control. Bali postponed accepting international flights at the airport. Indonesian tourists had a difficulty to travel overseas due to restrictions and quarantine policies in destination countries.
Therefore, the result of this situation was obvious. The crowds we saw were dominated by local tourists from different cities in Indonesia. Only less than 10 percent of visitors were foreigners under specific conditions, either have a temporary residence permit for foreigners (KITAS), married with an Indonesian spouse and have a family or can’t return to their homeland due to multiple times of lock down.
A senior waiter, who has been working since the first days of Starbucks Reserve Dewata opening, mentioned about a Russian guest he served who once told him on how he can survive financially when he can’t go back to his hometown and work for unexpectedly longer period. From what I understand, it turns out that the recent policy related to pandemic in Russia gives him an opportunity to work online for the government.
I thought to myself that Putin has made a great job about this policy. At that time, he had not started the war with Ukraine. FYI, long before pandemic strikes, there have been a lot of Russian people doing business, working or spending their retirement time in Bali.
ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE MATTERS THE MOST
When luxury and relaxation collide, that’s how I felt when I was hanging out at Starbucks Reserve Dewata. The grandiose store has mesmerizing local wisdom implementations with modern atmosphere to awe you (and very instagrammable), but there’s no need to be intimidated because it’s still Starbucks, that basically a coffee house for everybody in relatively affordable price, so you can be yourself and no certain dress code needed to be there. It’s also sort of a cafe museum oriented where you can learn something out of it if you want to with interactive tools. In short, it’s an edutainment destination.
Final verdict? It was a wonderful experience and I didn’t regret making Starbucks Reserve Dewata as a travel destination.