日本 Japan Take II

Author: John Posted: September 18, 2009

On the second time around, I was a little more coffee focused. Here’s some highlights.

I started off at Bach, a coffee shop in and around the Tokyo area. I had been tipped off by an employee at the hostel I was staying at, and despite my skepticism it actually turned out to be a pretty cool spot.

They offer pretty wide selection of coffee, mostly single origin. All coffee is done pour-over or “hand-drip” as the Japanese call it, and the coffee was pretty delicious.

The presentation was top notch.

Bach –like most Japanese cafe’s is a full service style cafe. You’re greeted, ushered to your table, you order from a server, and your coffee is brought to you. I found out later that Bach has been around for a really long time, and is quite well known in and around Japan.

From Tokyo, I went off to Okinawa for 5 nights.

First off, Okinawa is unbelievable beautiful, so plan a little ahead before you fly into Japan, and get the $200 round trip ticket, it’s totally worth it. When I arrived I had a bit of a problem. I had brought some great coffee from home to drink, but couldn’t brew it… no grinder. It took me a whole 28 hours to devise my master plan to get it ground.

I departed the hostel with the coffee in my black ops backpack, I then located the only Okinawan Starbucks. I picked up the lightest roasted starbucks coffee I could find: House Roast, bought it, said my arigatos and left, but before I went home, I deverted into a dark neglected corner, covered myself with my cape and broke the vacuum seal that keeps Starbucks coffee good for one whole year. With some Indiana Jones flare, I swapped my coffee into the Starbucks coffee bag, and as if nothing had happened I moved swiftly back into Starbucks. When I got to the counter, out came the most confident broken japanese that made no sense. And if it wasn’t for my charades-filled childhood, I’m not sure I would have ever got that coffee ground. But she did it, and for the first time ever my coffee made sweet love to a starbuck’s burr set. I took my ground Kenya Mtaro and guilty conscious, and that was that. Mission Success. Take note, this may happen to you one day, and where there’s water, there’s a Starbucks.

Ok, so after Okinawa, I was off to Fukuoka to meet with cleanhotdry celebrity and ex Crema / Wicked employee: Sayaka.

She was busy getting prepped for the JBC’s, so almost every shift ends with a 1 on 1 discussion about tactics and taste descriptors.

We went on a bit of a Fukuoka coffee tour, first stop: Honey Coffee.

Honey Coffee is a very well known roaster in and around Japan. The location is jam-packed with coffee merchandise, brewers, bodums, pour overs, grinders, the works. They sport a 12kg vintage Probat, roasting some beautiful single-origin coffees. Enjoyed a delicious Sidamo via Clover while I was there, and picked up a 100g of COE Rwanda. Yum. Also noted that besides Zoka in Tokyo, it’s about the only Clover I’ve seen in both visits to Japan.

Honey Coffee, and a handful of other Japanese roasters are a part of the Maruyama buying group. I’d seen the name in the COE auction results a few times and always thought they were a single roaster. Well, they’re a roaster, a buying group, and a person. Maruyama Coffee Roasters is located in Nagano in the North of Japan. The very basic concept of a buying group is, a bunch of roasters team up, combine funds, and bid on some really nice coffees. It’s a win-win for everyone, roasters get access to COE coffees at a price that’s reasonable, and in a quantity that is manageable. That’s the basic idea anyway, there are no doubt all kinds of complications in putting this kind of thing together, but Mr. Maruyama has it figured out nicely.

Next, Manu Coffee

If I lived in Fukuoka City this would probably be my regular place. Good tunes, seat yourself style, and some seriously passionate baristas.

Two of the baristas were getting prepped for the Japanese Barista Championships, I managed to have coffees from both of them, at both of Manu’s stores. At store #1 I had a great cappucinno, rich milk chocolate, caramel and nuts. It honestly reminded of a Snickers bar. At store #2 Misugi served me up his potential competition coffee, a single-origin Kenya-something and it was top notch.

Manu uses Honey Coffee as their roaster of choice, and I only have good things to say about the all the coffees I tried from them. If you’re in Japan, go here, you won’t be let down.

After Manu it was off to Adachi Coffee in Okawa. A pretty small city about an hour by train out of downtown Fukuoka.

Adachi Coffee was the place Sayaka left beautiful Canada to go an work at, so I knew it was going to be good.

The roastery has a beautiful vintage Probat, a ton of coffee merchandise and an espresso bar. The owner, Kazuhiro Adachi is really down to earth and extremely meticulous when it comes to anything coffee. Every year he takes some time to visit origin, and he’s probably the 3rd person in the last few months that has emphasized the importance of going.

The coffees were excellent, and all that I bought was nearly gone before I made it home, thanks to the hand grinder I bought at Manu. Sayaka was working the bar so the espresso was of course, fantastic.

A big thanks to Sayaka, and Adachi Coffee for the incredible hospitality while I visited there.

Next up was Green Coffee Roasters in Kobe, and while I was on my way I stumbled across this:

The setup was unlike anything I’d ever seen, hit the video below to catch a glimpse.

The pew style seating reminded me of church, and at the front of the stage, behind glass, the old school pro-bat was preaching. If you were to keep going up you’d find another area that looks more like your typical cafe, 15-20 seats in a rectangular room with a bar that lines the back wall. Point in hand, the place was irregularly huge, especially by Japan’s standards.

At Captain Terry’s you choose from a selection of green coffees, and when you order it, they roast it. After it’s roasted half of it is brewed via syphon and served to you, the other half you get to take home. The roaster is completely digital, and from ordering to cup it took about 12 minutes. The coffee was minutes off roast and hadn’t really had a chance to develop, but the whole experience was interesting nonetheless.

I found Green Coffee minutes after that, one of the coolest things about Green’s is its location.

You would think it might be annoying having a train run over the cafe every 15-20 minutes, but instead of the rickety clank you’d expect it to sound like, it’s this soft low bass note, with a quiet rumble that gives the place a really unique feel. They’re also a roaster, and also a part of the Maruyama buying group. They rock a siphon bar, full menu of single-origin coffees, and two choices on the espresso.

I had one of everything.

I won’t go into detail on how each drink tasted and looked –even though I wrote it down, you’ll just have to take my word for when I say, it was good, and worth stopping by.

Before leaving Fukuoka I went to one more place about a 45 minute bike ride from downtown. This is Manly Coffee.

Manly Coffee is small roaster owned by Sunaga. If you’re wondering where the name comes from, it’s named after Manly Beach in Australia. All the coffee Sunaga roasts is done on this bad boy:

After a few more days in Fukuoka it was back to Tokyo, then an hour train ride into Yokohama to visit Do Cafe. They use Vivace. The drinks I had we’re all prepared by Junko Hata and as I always find with Vivace, they tasted refreshingly unique. It was the 3rd time I’d been and every time I go, I learn a lot. If you’re going to Japan you’ll most likely be in Tokyo, which means you’ll be really close to Do Cafe, so Go. It’s pretty easy to get to. Another big thanks to Do Cafe for the hospitality.

A few random observations and generalizations.

Japanese cafes are almost always a full service experience. You’re greeted, sat, given a menu, you order from one of the staff cruising the floor, you’re brought your coffee, you ask for a bill, and you pay at the end. There’s a few things I like about it, it elevates the experience quite a bit, creates a feeling of formality. It might also allow them to worry a bit less when serving their coffees in really nice china. As when you’re seated your less likely to move about and a server clears your dishes for you. Basically, less chance of you breaking things. A few negatives, because you’re given a specific seat you can’t really move around freely. It makes the cafe feel a bit more solitary, harder to strike up a conversation with a stranger. In some cases I only saw the barista on my way in. Another thing, none of the cafes I visited were crazy busy so I’d be curious to see how that type of system works under volume, I can’t imagine it going over to smoothly.

Specialty coffee, however you want to define it, is expensive in Japan. Expect to pay at least 500円 which in Canadian dollars works out to roughly $5. Having said that, there were times I paid as much as $12.50 Canadian for an 10oz. cup of coffee and that wasn’t any special COE or anything, just a normal s/o coffee.

I had 3 people from different cafes ask me in their own way why the west is so into siphon. To most I replied, “I can only really only speak for myself and guess for the rest, but I think it’s mostly because it’s just new”. One of the guys I talked to basically said, it’s just a difficult brewing method, that’s tough to get consistent, requires a lot of labour, and at the end of the day tastes similar to hand-drip. But it was interesting that besides Green Coffee, most of the cafes doing Siphon were old style cafes reminiscent of the the first-wave that I never experienced. Big chains like Key Coffee and UCC come to mind.

The general presentation and attention to detail is unmatched in any cafe I’ve been to in North America. Whether it’s customer service, the porcelain, spoons, teensy creamers, trays, glasses of water, everything is top quality, and just plain nice to look at.

Every third-wave shop I went to had loads of magazines all about coffee. It isn’t very surprising considering how into magazines the Japanese are but, it is something that would be great to see in more cafes here in Vancouver.

And that’s it. If any of you are curious as to how to get to these places, send me an email and I can give you pretty clear directions to each place.

8 Responses to “日本 Japan Take II

  1. Tyron says:

    And to think I almost moved there, would have been awesome to atleast check it out.

  2. Dan Yee says:

    Awesome write up mate. Totally agree with the service and attention to detail. Unmatched anywhere IMO. Makes me want to go back.

  3. Jeremy Stothers says:

    Nice post! I think (unfortunately) nearly every Japanese cafe is stuck in the second wave… simple things like cleaning out the portafilter between uses and pulling the shot straight into the cup are rarely done, even in cafes with great food and a really pleasant atmosphere.

    It’s a bit funny how siphon coffee has become so popular. I blame all those awesome San Fran halogen bars for inspiring people.

    Too bad you didn’t get to check out Bear Pond: http://www.bear-pond.com/ maybe if there’s a Japan: round 3, you can stop by. It’s in a super cool little neighborhood in Tokyo. It was reviewed here: http://tokyoespresso.blogspot.com/

  4. John Giannakos says:

    Nice, Bear pond looks great. I actually had it bookmarked and completely forgot about it :( Next time.

    As to nearly every shop being stuck in the second wave, yeah, there’s a lot of shops (like every city) that could be doing things a little better. But, though I’m sure you’re saying that light-heartedly, I didn’t see any of those kind of basics being ignored. From the conversations I had and the baristas I watched, I can say confidently that there’s a whole lot of talent in Japan.

  5. triptogenetica says:

    “You would think it might be annoying having a train run over the cafe every 15-20 minutes, but instead of the rickety clank you’d expect it to sound like, it’s this soft low bass note, with a quiet rumble that gives the place a really unique feel. ”

    Unique? You must visit Square Mile coffee roasters in London – or the Monmouth roastery – both are housed in converted railway arches, and that soothing rumble you mention occurs there.

    But I’d agree that Greens looks to be the first cafe housed in such a place. I hope the customers enjoy it!

  6. Aviva Bowman says:

    Okinawa IS beautiful – and there are several Starbucks shops – at least 4 that I know of. There’s also a coffee farm on the northeast corner of the island, Hiro’s Coffee Farm. It’s a delightful day to sit out in the shade with a full pot of freshly roasted and brewed coffee! There are worthy coffee places here – if you visit again, I’d be happy to advise :)

  7. coops says:

    I live in Fukuoka, we have a lot of great coffee places as mentioned in the post.
    Many people think the Japanese just drink canned coffee from a vending machine.
    best of luck

  8. Terence says:

    I’ll be visiting Fukuoka soon and wish I had a knowledgable coffee guide like you did. Will make an effort to visit some of the places you mentioned, thanks!

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