On a sloping side street a few minutes from the clamor and commotion of Shibuya station, the quiet haven of Café Satei Hatou is wedged in between a pachinko slot parlor and a nearly defunct French restaurant.
Coffee, tea, and juice are prepared and served at Hatou as if they were fine wines. The water is treated and filtered with an ion-alkaline process until it is as pure and tasty as mountain air.
The coffee is not prepared in the “neru” way, the hand-held flannel filter method preferred by iconic kissaten such as Cafe de L’Ambre. Hatou prepares each cup using a Kalita paper filter drip tailored to each serving to ensure the proper paper to coffee ratio. Kalita filters, says Taguchi-san, the master, have three drip holes at the bottom for a faster drain. Melitta filters, on the other hand, have only one hole for a more leisurely drain. Such details are essential for coffee cognoscenti.
The cups 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. A flower arrangement as large as the crown of a tree dominates one corner. Oil paintings in heavy ornate frames hang on the wall alongside modern lithographs. A tall grandfather clock tick tocks soothingly beside an armoire displaying antique vases. The lamps on the tables have stained glass shades.
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. Sandwiches, roast beef or ham and cheese, are 700 yen.
To craft your cup of coffee, Taguchi-san will require about five minutes. I timed this process the other day. Taguchi will first measure out the freshly-roasted beans, grind them, then place the grounds into the filter.
Freshly boiled water will then be dripped from the water pot onto the grounds to pre-moisten them. Then more water will be dribbled in an up/down motion that is simultaneously circular to thoroughly wet the grounds. The grounds will swell up in a mound rising above the filter top.
As Taguchi continues the up/down circular dribbling, the mound collapses into a crater with light brown crema-like foam in the center. Hot water is now poured into your cup to warm it. The coffee in the glass pot is very briefly held over a gas flame to add a few degrees of heat, then it is poured into the cup. A perfectly clear, fragrant, and deeply delicious brew.
Customers of all types frequent this kissaten: young women with a group of friends or alone with a book, couples, business people, and grandparents.
Hatou is intimate enough for lovers and spacious enough for large thoughts and grand ideas.
Surprisingly, not one cup or dish fell and broke from Hatou shelves during the recent earthquake.
Café Satei Hatou: 1-15-19 Shibuya, Shibuya Ward. Tel: 03-3400-9088. Open daily 11am to 11:30pm.