DANNY PANG'S TRAVEL BLACK BOOK

Bandung's vibrant coffee culture

Step into the local culture by exploring the city's unique cafe scene and visiting coffee farms in the highlands

Who: Singaporean Danny Pang, 46, managing director of beverage and hospitality training company Barista Craft.

Favourite destination: Bandung, Indonesia

Why: Bandung is a developing city about a three hour's drive from Jakarta. It has a vibrant culture of independent cafes and restaurants with unique character and a lively entertainment industry that rivals that of Jakarta, but without the heavy traffic of its sister city.

The people are extremely friendly and I always enjoy my visits to the beautiful coffee plantations outside the city.

Favourite hotel

I love to stay at the Hummingbird Eatery & Guesthouse (Jl. Progo 14; tel:+62-22-421-2582). It has eight rooms (starting from $37 a night), which are clean, simple and have a resort feel despite being located in the centre of town.

Its cafe serves great coffee and breakfast, with an extensive menu of Western and local dishes. I usually opt for its big breakfast, which is similar to the eggs, sausages, sauteed mushrooms and baked beans you would get in Singapore, but at half the price.

Favourite restaurant

Lapo Siagian (Jalan Baki Hasan 19A) is a local favourite and hidden gem located in a small alley in Bandung. A meal costs no more than US$4 (S$5.40) on average, and you have to try its grilled pork dipped in homemade chilli sauce with rice. The crispy skin and tender meat, smoked and grilled in the restaurant's kitchen, is mouth-watering. It is my favourite thing to eat in Bandung.

The restaurant is so hidden that only locals and regulars know it is there. Do not expect luxurious seating or decor, but the food is great and as local as you can get.

The coffee scene

To get a feel of the local culture, I like to walk the streets of Bandung, eat its local delicacies and visit its cafes.

While most cafes in Singapore may have to rely on foreigners to survive, that is not the case in Bandung. The business overheads are lower here, but the local populace supports the cafes sufficiently.

As a result of not having to emulate the cafes in Australia, Europe or the United States, the cafes in Bandung have created their own unique style. Every cafe shows the owner's individual touch and it does not need to display a high-end, fancy coffee machine to attract customers. All it takes is a well-prepared cup of coffee and a nice ambience. I find this very refreshing.

Also, the people of Bandung are generally very friendly and offer great service. They may not offer prompt service as they like to take it easy, but I am fine with that since my coffee time is a relaxing affair.

Favourite cafes

Blue Doors Coffee (Jl. Gandapura No. 61, Jawa Barat) is one of the cafes I frequent most. I like it because it has a nice atmosphere and its owner cares how every cup of coffee that he brews tastes.

He bothers to ask customers if they like the coffee, what they like about it and does not assume, unlike most other cafes, that customers will like the coffee just because it is called artisan-roasted or prepared by qualified baristas. A cup of coffee here costs about US$3.

Another cafe I like is the Yellow Truck Coffee (www.facebook.com/yellowtruckcoffee). Two years ago, there was only one cafe and now there are five in the city. Cups Coffee & Kitchen (Jalan Trunojoyo No. 25; tel:+62-22-4269-0182) is also popular.

Favourite tour

Ask the baristas at your favourite local cafe and they may be able to help you organise a tour to one of the area's coffee plantations, a two-to three-hour drive away in the highlands.

The tours take place only towards the end of the harvest season in November and December and typically include a visit to the plantation. They offer a chance to pick coffee beans from the trees, followed by a tour of the coffee-processing area where participants are introduced to the milling, drying and sorting methods.

The tours may even include overnight stays on the plantation. It is a great experience which allows people to appreciate the hard work that goes into every bean.

I have conducted tours to coffee farms in Mount Puntang and Mount Papandayan, which cost about US$500 a person for a three-day visit, including accommodation and meals, but excluding airfare.

Tips for travellers

Pack simply, and for a cooler climate. The weather in Bandung is not as hot as in Singapore or Jakarta and you will be comfortable in a T-shirt and jeans.

You also do not need to bring too much money, as most of the food and shopping are often half of the cost in Singapore.

Ideal length of stay

Five days would enable you to see the city, which takes about two days, and also give you time to head to the highlands for another two to three days in the plantations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'Bandung's vibrant coffee culture'. Print Edition | Subscribe