A Coffee Experience
My friend Bill raves about the coffee place he frequents and after having some spectacular coffee at his house this past weekend, I asked him to take me to his spot.
The Japanese are very particular about their coffees. One would think this was a solely tea-drinking society, but it’s not. The Japanese love coffee. There are coffee shops everywhere – Italian ones, French ones and particularly Japanese ones with low tables and $5 tiny cups of java. Of course there is the requisite Starbucks which is hugely popular among the Japanese. As with most things, anything worth doing is worth doing right.
This particular shop is located in the Azabu Juban area of Tokyo, a popular area for expats but also for upscale
Japanese and those looking for a bit of an international flavor in an otherwise homogeneous society. It’s called Kobo and it’s located right by the big slide park – aka Azabu Juban park. Kobo is not a coffee shop in which one sits to sip a drink, but a place where a serious coffee purchaser goes to buy beans for use at home.
The shop couldn’t be more than the size of my kitchen, which is pretty small, but the walls are lined with bags of coffee from all over the world. There are at least a hundred varieties of beans, all of them in jars and un-roasted so they are beige-ish in color. The shelves, the wall and even the counter are done in dark woods so light is at a premium in the shop.
The aroma in the Kobo is the most memorable and overwhelming part of the whole sensory experience. The coffees all blend together to create a rich and fiery smell that assaults the nose upon opening the door to the shop. If you close your eyes in there, tt is reminiscent of wood fires and cozy sofas of days gone by.
The man behind the counter is the gem of the place. He is quiet and deferential, bordering on overly formal. He measures out the ordered coffee and puts the beans in a sifter to make sure each bean is pure and nothing untoward gets into the roaster. The roaster is amazing. Beans don’t just sit on the fire but they are subjected to air so they are constantly turning and moving as they heat and roast. It’s mesmerizing to watch the beans floating around in the glass cylinder turning from boring beige to rich brown.
I asked the man behind the counter to choose something for me -whatever he recommended – and he gave me an “Azabu Blend” which was supposed to be a medium-roast coffee. It took twenty minutes to roast, so I went off to have lunch and came back. When I returned, he was waiting for me with a silver package of whole beans and a special gift – a Kobo coffee scoop. It was “for service” as the Japanese say when they give away little gifts with purchases.
I couldn’t wait to brew my beans so I ran home to put them in my grind-and-brew. The result was delightful – a real experience in java. The taste was almost smoky and bold without being too strong and there was not a hint of acid. It was almost rich tasting. One thing to note: the beans are so well-roasted that the grinds are extra powdery. There was very little residue left in my grinder and clean-up was a breeze. That hasn’t happened before with any other bean I’ve used.
This type of specialty coffee-bean shop is not something I expected to find in Tokyo, home of the omnipresent green tea. But one thing I’ve learned about Tokyo: expect the unexpected.