Ken Aliy Negtive Space Delving into a true taste of coffee

Ken Aliy Negtive Space
A customer at the Ken Aliy Negtive Space coffee shop, Cipete, having a deep discussion about their coffee with the serving barista. Photos: Freddy Wally

IO – During a weekend around the start of the year, we met with Ryan Wibawa, a former barista who’s been working with coffee for years, with experience in both local and global coffee franchises. Now, he finally opened his own coffee shop. Located in the hip “one thousand coffee shop” row in urban Jakarta, Cipete Raya, he proudly presented his café to the public: Ken Aliy Negtive Space. 

“That’s right, “negative” as in “negative space”. That does not mean that my coffee shop is a “negative area” or that I was just being sensational with that name. This space is where “negative” is taken away and turned into “positive”. It all depends on our point of view, like when you look at a work of art. For example, there’s this blackand-white picture I see that at first looks like the picture of a vase to me, only for someone to tell me that if I look at it another way, it’s a silhouette of two faces looking at each other. Everything depends on our perspective, and that includes the taste of coffee. No single taste is the “right” or “wrong” taste,” he said. 

Mango Yakult
Other than various coffee brews, Ken Aliy Negtive Space also serves exotic non-coffee beverages like Mango Yakult

Ryan went on to explain that the odd name “Ken Aliy” in front of the “Negtive Space” is not a real person, but the concept of the local coffee shop franchise he and his fellow baristas and coffee lovers created. “First, the “KEN”. It’s actually the abbreviation of “Kopi Enak Nusantara”, or “Delicious Coffee from the Archipelago”. The “Aliy” is from the alternate spelling of “Ali”, which means “High” or “Noble” in Arabic. Our dream is to be able to produce divinely delicious Archipelago coffee drinks in order to express our gratitude to the highest of all drinks – to create the “perfect” coffee if possible. Now, Ken Aliy has three concept shops in different areas of Jakarta.” 

Ken Aliy Negtive Space
The homey façade of Ken Aliy Negtive Space coffee shop, Cipete.

Ryan’s coffee shop has the unique concept of inviting all new visitors to try out samples of their signature products before exploring further. “We usually set them on the path of exploring the possibilities of our coffee by giving them a taste of our three basic cold brew beverages. Each of these coffee drinks has a different flavor and character,” he said. 

Ryan packages three versions of specially crafted coffee drinks made out of single-origin coffee beans, in 500 ml glass bottles each labelled “Enzy”, “Browny”, and “Distilly”. Once the visitor decides which type they would like to try first, they will be given a shot glass’ (about 30 ml) amount. If the visitor likes the sample, they will order it; if they want to sample another type, it will be given to them. When they made their final choice, the barista will make them a hot or cold beverage on their preferred brew. 

The composition card on the bar explains that “Enzy” flavor and composition is based on the idea that coffee beans are seeds of the coffee tree’s fruit. When tasting Enzy, customers will get a fresh, mellow fruity taste from their brew. 

“Browny” recalls the aroma and taste of rasa coffee during one’s childhood, such as with the mixture of sweet chocolate or palm sugar. It has a sharp, distinct, easily identifiable tang. 

Last but not least, “Distilly”. Ryan invites all coffee lovers and makers to taste a deep depth of his brew that maintains its robust aroma and flavor until the final sip, but still light enough for an overall enjoyment. 

When asked about the types and origins of the coffee beans he serves in his café, Ryan firmly declared that the delight of drinking coffee doesn’t start by knowing what type of coffee beans they are drinking or how those beans are processed, but the drinker’s coffee. “Let the tongue find the right taste for itself,” he smiled. “This is why my tagline is “Choose Your Colors, Define Your Own Flavors”. I want all of the guests who drink coffee at Negtive Space to make their own choices based on the colors that I have formulated.” 

That day, the beans composing the coffee in my cup came from northern Sumatra, from Aceh Kenawat to be exact. They are “wet ground”, i.e. ground immediately after picking, before getting dried naturally for a whole week. This enriches the coffee’s flavor and aroma like nothing else can. “Any type of coffee bean will do. I just formulate all of them into the tones that you learnt of, “Enzy”, “Browny”, and “Distilly”. Even if I couldn’t get any Acehnese coffee sometime, I can simply source other coffee beans with a similar taste and aroma that can be formulated into my trinity.” 

Other than the “serious” coffee that it specializes in, Negtive Space has other beverages such as premium chocolate, gourmet latte, as well as sweet tooth specialties like royal hazelnut latte and fresh, tart mango Yakult. 

Water spinach noodles
Water spinach noodles, one of Ken Aliy Negtive Space’s specialty dishes.

They Serve…Water Spinach Noodles in their Menu…?! 

Ryan won many titles and trophies that prove his reliability as a barista in multiple prestigious competitions, both domestic and abroad. He won first place in Indonesia Brewers Cup 2015 and second in the same event in 2018. Not long before the pandemic, he won third place in the international barista competition World Brewers Cup in Dublin, Ireland in 2016, where he battled against thousands of baristas from all over the world, including Indonesia. Even though he didn’t come first, Ryan was happy to have competed his national and international peers and learned many new coffee-making techniques from them. 

Negtive Space: a simple, mostly white 3 x 3 meter design is meant to allow anyone to relax and sit awhile. To complement the experience of a different perspective of coffee drinking, Ryan decided to put in his mother’s beloved mie kangkung (“water spinach noodle”) recipe into his menu. “Initially, we only made the noodle on order, so we only stocked a little. However, because it became a very popular item despite our opening for only a week, we decided to make it a permanent side dish item in our menu,” he said. 

Negtive Space’s yard is also spacious enough for those who want to just sit under a tree with their coffee. It is open 7 days a week from 07.00 a.m. to 22.00 p.m. It is a safe place, where you can hang out without fear for your health or safety because of its strict adherence to health protocols during the pandemic. (Freddy Wally)