Archive for the ‘café’ Category

Jashumon: Ogikubo Coffee shop Time Slip

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Jashumon exterior passersby

As if by magic, time has stopped inside the coffee shop, Jashumon, just a short minute from Ogikubo station. This old kissaten started serving coffee, tea, and other drinks in 1955.

Jashumon upstairs 2If you are an intrepid wanderer of this vast city, you may discover in other backstreets of other languishing neighborhoods old kissaten bearing the same name, “Jashumon.”  These iterations resemble each other in their collections of antique clocks gracing the tinged walls, their abundance of lanterns and lamps lighting the heavy-framed oil paintings crowding the pendulum clocks, and their preservation of a venerated past.

The original Jushamon operated on a side street in Kunitachi for decades. (The small, leaning building still sits there locked up tight.)

The coffee shop owner and proprietor, Nawa-san, was also an accomplished magician who, more than half a century ago, had tutored a group of young people in the art of legermain. And in honor of their revered teacher, some pupils opened their own “Jushamon” kissaten in different parts of the city.

Jashumon stairs downNawa-san started his extended magical engagement in heaven in 2008, but the Ogikubo Jushamon, run by pupil Kazue Furota, a sprightly 83-year-young woman, still carries on.

Walking up and down the very steep stairs from the first floor kitchen to the second floor coffee room must be keeping Furota-san spry. (The photo shows the view from upstairs.)

She will arrive at your table with a pleasant smile and your carefully prepared cup of the day’s featured bean, or your cappucino, your  “Vienna” coffee—black coffee with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, or your sophisticated Italian coffee.

This Jashumon speciality comes with a cup of hot lemonade which you are to sip between sips of the dark Italian roast.

Jashumon muskersOn a recent visit, Furota-san commented on the collection of ancient muskets racked above a window. She says these weapons found their way into her family generations ago, and they were fired in three wars: the Spanish War of Independence, the American Civil War, and the  Satsuma Rebellion of the samurai.

Some people have commented that, at her age, Furota-san should retire and take it easy, but she says that as long as the joren (the regular customers) keep coming, she’ll keep going.

Sitting at second-floor table, looking at the defunct dusty reel-to-reel tape recorder, the stack of discolored manga, or the grafitti of names and dates scratched or inked onto the walls, one indeed is transported to an earlier, analog Tokyo.

Back in the day, Furota-san helped lay the bricks that support the walls that support the multitude of clocks which are now tick-tocking away the minutes.



1-6-11 Kami Ogi, Suginami Ward

Tel: 03-3398-6206

Open daily 2:30 pm to 9:30pm

Jashumon is just a minute walk from the north exit of Ogikubo station. Exit the station and bear right. You’ll soon see the overhead yellow sign of the “Ogikubo North Exit Shotengai.” Turn in there.




A coffee tour of Tokyo: my favorite kissaten

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Dante siphons

Tokyo beats any other city in the world for variety and depth of the coffee drinking experience. Of course, the street corners are rife with slick Seattle-based coffee-drink emporiums. And the city boasts world-class baristas who can decorate a café creme with a Pikachu character, a rose, or a Valentine heart.

Caf´de L'Ambre brewingBut if you want to taste a demitasse brew of 30-year aged Cuban beans, plumb the day-to-day depths of Brazil Santos #2, or compare a Sumatra Mandheling bean prepared through a cotton flannel filter, a paper filter, or a glass siphon contraption while listening to Coltrane or Shubert on vintage vinyl records, then check out Tokyo’s kissaten.

The thing is, kissaten—the old-school Japanese name for coffee shop—are not easy to find. They don’t advertise. They close early, and are often closed on weekends. You’ve got to seek them out as on a pilgrimage.

If you’ve never tried neru-drippu (cotton-flannel filter) coffee, then you are in for a pleasant surprise. Cognoscenti claim the flannel filter renders the brew maruyaka, or “rounded and soft” with no “paper filter” taste.

The best place to start would be Café de L’Ambre, Tokyo’s mecca for coffee connoisseurs for 60 years. On a quiet side street in Ginza, this laid-back shop roasts its beans everyday 300 grams at a time. Small batches, they say, ensure freshness.

Over 30 types of fragrant beans fill the glass jars on the shelves behind the polished wood counter. Coffee beans, if properly warehoused, will age over decades like fine wine developing nuances of fuller, rounder flavor and aroma. The demitasse is the cup to try.

Tsuta masterTsuta, another neru temple can be found in Minami Aoyama. This ivy-covered kissaten, with its large bay window overlooking a Japanese garden, was started over 20 years ago by Koyama-san who learned the basics of roasting and brewing at Café de L’Ambre.

Koyama uses only Brazil Santos #2. One bean is enough for him, he says, because the taste of the coffee changes according to the humidity, the season, the time of day, and even the mood of the customer.

One more neru kissaten worth finding is Café Bechet in Ginza. Named after Sidney Bechet, the jazz clarinetist whose vinyl album covers and b/w photos grace the walls, this kissaten offers a respite from the crowds and prices of Ginza with old school jazz and old school coffee quality.

Uniquely at Bechet, after selecting the bean you prefer, say Mandheling, you can also choose a roasting style, lighter to darker: city roast, full city roast, or French roast.

With the neru drip, the coffee brew first dribbles into a small handled pot in which the coffee cools slightly. The brew must then be reheated slightly to bring it up to sipping temperature.

Dante entranceThe siphon method, the two-part contraption with its glass globe and detachable upper glass chamber, also produces an impeccable cup—and the coffee doesn’t need to be reheated.

The water in the lower glass bulb is heated. Steam then forces the hot water upwards into upper glass chamber where it infuses with the ground coffee. And when the heat source is removed from the glass bulb, the resulting vacuum draws the brewed coffee down through a flat flannel filter and back into the lower bulb.

Coffee Lodge Dante in Nishi Ogikubo is a fine example of this fading, yet still delicious, brewing technique. Dante is also one of the many rustic, old brick and dark wood decorated kissaten from the 1960s and ’70s which still survive across the city. Request a tune from the hundreds of vintage jazz albums crowded into old bookcases.

Holding out for nearly ninety years, Meikyoku Kissa Lion at the top of Dogenzaka in Shibuya, serves paper-filtered coffee.Lion front speaker area

But it is also a bastion for the musically pious and a refuge from the sordid world of love hotels outside.

Inside Lion it’s as quiet as a church.

Pale milky sunlight seeps in through glazed windows. Dark wood Doric columns support Moorish arches above very faded red plush chairs neatly arranged into rows like pews facing the soaring altar of the massive “3D Sound System” speakers mounted high in a tabernacle and illuminated by electric candelabra and a scintillating crystal chandelier. Order a coffee here and worship Bach, Beethoven, or Shostakovich.

The paper filter method offers several advantages over other types of brewing. First, one need not continually wash, mend and care for flannel filters. Plus, you don’t need to empty and wash out glass chambers filled with spent coffee grounds.

And the filter cognoscenti state that a superior, clean, brightly flavored brew is produced.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURENear Shibuya station, Café Satei Hatou has lifted the paper filter brew to an art form. The water is treated and filtered with an ion-alkaline process until it is as pure and tasty as mountain air. The beans are carefully weighed and ground fresh for each cup. Hatou prefers the Kalita brand filter holder with its three drip holes at the bottom for a faster drain. Other brands have only one drain hole, explained the master, resulting in a more leisurely drain. Such details are essential for coffee cognoscenti.

The cups at Hatou are of the finest porcelain and hundreds of different designs are on colorful display on shelves behind the counter which is twelve meters of dark hinoki. Seasonal flower arrangements, as large as the crown of a tree, dominate one corner table. Oil paintings in ornate frames hang on the wall alongside modern lithographs. A grandfather clock tick tocks soothingly beside an armoire displaying antique vases. Hatou is intimate enough for lovers and spacious enough for large thoughts and grand ideas.

At first glance the prices seem exorbitant—800 yen for a cup of coffee, 900 yen for a glass of juice. But if you order a second cup or glass—of anything on the menu—it will cost only 500 yen. A modest price to pay for perfection.

Café de L’Ambre: 8-10-15 Ginza, Chuo Ward. 03.3571.1551.

Tsuta: 5-11-20 Minami Aoyama, Minato Ward. 03.3498.6888.

Café Bechet: 2-2-19 Ginza, Chuo Ward. 03.3564.3176.

Coffee Lodge Dante: 3-10-2 Nishiogi Minami, Suginami Ward. 03.3333.2889.

Meikyoku Kissa Lion: 2-19-12 Dogenzaka, Shibuya Ward. 03.3461.6858.

Café Satei Hatou: 1-15-19 Shibuya, Shibuya Ward. 03.3400.9088.



Violon: Café et Musique. Classic kissaten on Asagaya backstreet

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Violon interior 1

Violon is a classic. Customers come here for classical music and coffee. That’s all Violon provides and that’s all the customers need.

Violon interior tubesAll seats face the massive array of speakers and horns that are built into a special pit that extends down below the floor. The ceiling behind the speakers gently arches forward for a better acoustic.

Music lovers come to Violon mostly solo to read, to sleep, or to make a request and listen to a vinyl LP. But the small tables also accommodate duos, trios, or even a quartet.

The place serves coffee, tea, milk, hot chocolate, orange juice or cola. All are the same price—350 yen.

But when the coffee arrives, you are offered the option of brandy in your brew. Should you accept, the young lady deftly shakes a small vial about six times over your cup sending in perhaps a teaspoon of the distilled grape into your coffee. It‘s not enough alcohol to give you a buzz, but if the music doesn’t mellow your mood, the brandy will.

Customers are known to nod off, head against the wall in slumber, while their coffee slowly cools.

Violon coffee 1Others sit, head in hands, staring at the speakers lost in reverie. Some have carved messages into the worn wooden tabletops.

The six tiny tables in the center are in a sort of orchestra pit planked with wood and one gets the feeling of sitting in the hold of an old sailing ship.

Thousands of vinyl LPs are stacked into shelfs. You can write up a request on the chalkboard near the miniscule kitchen should you prefer to listen to anything from Mussorgsky, Brahms, Dvorak, Chopin, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, or any other composer, including of course, the master, J. S. Bach.

When I arrived, a symphony that I couldn’t place was playing. A few moments later a trio of young people entered and ordered tea with one young man remarking, “Ah, Schumann’s ‘Spring Symphony’.” I climbed the three steps up to the register to check. He was right.

Violon loveThe sound system runs on vacuum tubes—RCA UY-227 Radiotron Amplifier Tubes—seemingly from the 1950s. The owner has laid in a large stock of these irreplaceable components.

Violon seems to host a live classical music concert almost every night, including solo pianists, string quartets, and even a theremin performer. Details are provided on the website.

Violon: Asagaya Kita 2-9-5. Tel: 03-3336-6414, Open 12pm to 11pm. LP Record Time is until 6pm on days with musical events. Closed on Tuesdays. A map on how to get there is on Violon’s website



Anniversaire Café: Omotesando‘s last outdoor café

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012


The street running from the top of the Omotesando slope down to Harajuku station has often been called the Champs-Elysées of Tokyo. It once had some of the energy and diversity of that famed Parisien boulevard, but that was then.

Both sides of the street were alive with small shops. The venerable 80-year old Dojunkai Apartment complex— a warren of tiny apartments and tinier boutiques—gave the street a synergistic mix of shabby and cool. Paris sent an ambassador, a small branch outpost of Café de Flore where you could sip coffee outside and watch the passing Tokyo street life. Café Des Pres also had a lively street presence as did the magnificent Aux Bacchanales in Harajuku.

Those cafés are long gone. The Dojunkai Apartments have been been replaced by a sterile shopping mall, and Omotesando is chock-a-block with sleek high-end designer architectural confections of glass and textured steel that conspire to create perhaps the world‘s most expensive wind tunnel.

Yet, one bright spot remains. Anniversaire Café. Near the top of Omotesando street, this lively café serves superb onion gratin soup in winter and fruit sorbets in summer. Sandwiches are good. Salads are fresh. Customers even brave winter rain to sit outside under the awning, warmed  by blankets and the blast of space heaters.

The café is part of a wedding factory, including a faux chapel situated beyond an arched passageway. On certain days, once every hour, newlywed couples pop out of the chapel and promenade through the archway heralded by the café trumpeter and his female accompaniest on the electric organ. Customers at the outside tables are given handbells to ring congratulations to the passing couple.

A sincere kind of phoniness, of course, but the smiles on the newlyweds are real.

Anniversaire Café is real too. You can lounge at an outside table, with a newspaper, a book, or an iPad, and nurse a café creme or a glass of Chardonnay for as long as you as you care to.

You can find Anniversaire Café about a hundred meters down the slope from Omotesando crossing on the police koban side of the street. The café is open everyday.