Pantjoran Tea House is situated in Glodok area, Jakarta, the biggest Pecinan or Chinatown in Indonesia that has been existing since 380 years ago. Jalan Pancoran is part of Glodok area coverage, apart from Gang Gloria (Gloria Alley) and Petak Sembilan. The two-storey building is also the main gate to Jakarta Old Town, formerly called Batavia, from the south.
The name “Glodok” is inspired by “grojok grojok”, the sound of running water from the douche in the yard of the City Hall. Nonetheless, Chinese people pronounced it as “glodok”, that finally becomes an official name of the area. On the other hand, the translation of “douche”, which is pancuran in Indonesian, inspires Pancoran (local’s unofficial pronunciation of pancuran) as a street name.
Operating since nearly 3 years ago, Pantjoran Tea House is definitely not the oldest tea house and restaurant in Jakarta. Nonetheless, the age of the building is much older than the tea house itself because it used to be Apotheek Chung Hwa (Chung Hwa Pharmacy), the second oldest pharmacy in Jakarta opened in 1928.
After it runs out of business, the building was neglected and untreated for years, occupied by illegal tenants and shop houses on the 2nd floor. After the government initiated a revitalization program in the Old Town area, The Head of Indonesia Architect Association, Ahmad Djuhara, lead the former Apotheek Chung Hwa renovation project started in September 2014. 16 months later, in December 2015, Jakarta Old Town Revitalization Corp (JOTRC) CEO, Lin Che Wei, reopened the privately-owned building, transforming it into Pantjoran Tea House. It also has been nominated as World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Commemorating the tradition of drinking tea is one of the major reasons why the building is functioned as a tea house. The birth of tea culture can be traced back in the 17th century, when a Dutch botanist named Andreas Cleyer brought the tea seedling from Japan by a VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or Dutch East India Company) ship that regularly harboured around the Old Town.
At around 9.30 am, our tour guide from Jakarta Good Guide, Cindy, I and the rest of tour members arrived at Pantjoran Tea House that took 7 minutes walk from Candra Naya building. What makes it distinctive is the presence of 8 teapots on the long table situated on the right side of the entrance door.
The teapot display is in fact not only for the sake of eye-catching view, but also a symbol of solidarity in diversity that has been told from generations to generations.
The tradition began when Gan Djie came to Batavia (now Jakarta) in 1659 for his trading business and lived in Kota Tua (Old Town) area. In 1663, he was appointed by the Dutch to be the third Kapitein der Chineezen (Chinese Captain), a prominent leader in the semi-autonomous Chinese community, until his death in 1666. His wife replaced his position until her retirement in 1678.
Captain Gan Djie and his wife were famous for their kindness and solidarity during their lives. They always put eight teapots in front of the captain’s office for peddlers and those who were tired to shelter while zipping some tea with for of charge. Those days, cafes, restaurants as well as other food and drink vendors were rare.
Since then, the area where they lived is known as “Patekoan”, whose name is originated from pat (eight in Chinese) and teko (teapot in Indonesian). Although the name of the area has changed into Jalan Peniagaan (Peniagaan Street), a lot of people still call it as Patekoan.
To revitalize the spirit of solidarity, those tea in the teapots are served for free for everyone, forever, even without dining at the restaurant itself. The inscription in front of the teapots says it out loud, “Tradisi ‘Patekoan’ (8 Teko); SILAKAN MINUM! TEH UNTUK KEBERSAMAAN; TEH UNTUK MASYARAKAT” (‘Patekoan’ (8 Teapots) Tradition; PLEASE HAVE A DRINK!; TEA FOR TOGETHERNESS; TEA FOR THE PEOPLE)
Cindy gave us some time to drink the tea before heading to Gang Gloria (Gloria Alley). The tea house waiter also encouraged us to do the same and convinced that it’s free.
A month later, I returned to the same place with my family. In my case, it’s my second time to taste the free black tea from one of the old-fashioned white-green teapots next to the entrance door. We planned to taste the dim sum, but it was too late. Opening at 7 am, most of the dim sum menus were already finished by 10 am. The peak hour is usually between 7.30 am to 9 am, where nearly all the guests who just finish walking and jogging around the Old Town area.
Therefore, we finally ordered some main courses to share, such as fried noodle, fuyung hai (egg omelette with minced prawn), the signature nasi goreng Pantjoran (beetroot fried rice with seafood), stir-fry chicken with salted vegetable in fermented rice sauce, and 2 other remaining dim sum menus still available, ha kau (prawn crystal dumpling), chicken siomay and jasmine tea.
The tea house interior is dominated Chinese style wooden shutters that allow sunlight coming into the dining room. The first floor where we sat is a non air-conditioned room with a fan placed on the high ceiling. Fortunately, it wasn’t so hot inside because the entrance door remained open facing our seat.
I love what I saw on the second floor. Long and vertical windows, Chinese style wooden shutters and antiquities deliver nostalgic moments of Chinese occupation during the Dutch colonization era, although the whole parts of the interior is brand new and nothing like the original because its condition was so bad that it was hard to see the traces of the original look at that time. Moreover, it’s air conditioned and has roomy spaces among the seats.
There are several paintings depicting the old glory of Apotheek Chung Hwa on the walls. The original building was bigger in the past, yet it was cut off from 400 meters to 300 meters left due to the expansion of the street. Also, there are other paintings showing the same building with distinctive elements of colonization from 2 countries, the Japanese red torii gate and Dutch style trams passing by.
Apart from paintings, there are some frames of cheatsheet and chart showing the history of drinking tea, types of tea and how tea culture enters Indonesia. Suppose you have a patience in reading them all, visiting this floor feels like entering a museum.
Well, I think it’s my time to return to reality and I believe our food should be ready to serve.
The ha kau and chicken siomay was pretty good. We also liked the jasmine tea. Nonetheless, the fried noodle, nasi goreng Pantjoran, fuyung hai were just okay and not very special. I didn’t consume the last 3 meals since I have severe allergy in fried food, so I only conclude from what my family said about it.
There was an issue with my stir-fry chicken with salted vegetable in fermented rice sauce. The chicken was deep fried with flour instead of stir-fry. Apparently the chef improvised the menu without informing the waiter. It’s a common sense that every dish should be in line with the image and description in the menu book. I asked for a replacement since it would trigger my allergy later on. She agreed to change it with the stir-fry chicken as it should be and the taste was quite good.
In a nutshell, Pantjoran Tea House is an interesting tourist spot and a lovely ambiance for gathering, especially in terms of history and unique heritage of Patekoan tradition that remind us to embrace cultural differences as part of a nation’s pride.
The price range is middle to high segment with an approximate total spending of Rp. 70.000 to Rp. 100.000 ($5 to $8) per person, depending on what you order. Although there are many more recommended Chinese restaurants in Jakarta, it still has a decent food quality and not a tourist trap at all.