Donpa: Cold water Dutch drip coffee in Ginza

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Donpa exterior

Tokyo is awash with delicious hot coffee brewed drip by drip through paper filters, “neru” flannel filters, vacuum-powered drip filters, and even pressed through those French contraptions. But precious little coffee is produced by the time-consuming, cold water “drop-by-drop” technique known as the “Dutch” method here in Japan.

Donpa glass containersFor seven hours, cold water moves from the topmost bowling ball-sized glass globe, held secure in its four-post wooden frame and held aloft by a woven rope net, down into a smaller beer can-sized cylindrical vessel, then lower down into the bottommost baseball-sized chamber, which empties abruptly horizontally right and left through some metal plumbing and then vertically earthward again through two needle valves each regulated by a control knob to allow a certain number of drops per minute.

This cold fusion of water and ground coffee produces a soft brew free of aku, the scum or foam that forms when cooking a nabe pot, declares the explanation posted below the apparatus.

Unlike the short aggressive chemical reactions produced by scalding water and bean, the cool lengthy commingling of still water and bean produces a milder, less bitter, and less acid brew.

Donpa coffeeOf course, this concentrated coffee essence must be diluted and reheated before serving. And this year, Donpa celebrates 40 years of serving such mizu kohi, or water coffee, in Tokyo.

Besides the unusual Dutch drip method, Donpa adds another touch to their coffee experience: natural cinnamon essence which marries very successfully with their soft mellow brew.

The place is a comfortable oasis from crowds of the Ginza. The flooring is with well-worn black hardwood. The dark tables and chairs are chipped and smoothed by decades of use.

Customers of all persuasions and generations stop by Donpa. The menu offers uncinnamoned coffees as well in all styles, plus tea, milk, and juices. Cinnamon toast or cheese toast or jam toasts of various seasonal fruits are served, as are house-made cakes and cookies.

Unfortunately, smoking is allowed in the large open room. Nevertheless, the room is well ventilated and keeping your lungs and taste buds relatively smoke free is not an issue.

donpa customer sleeping

Napping seems to be allowed. Just order a coffee, put your head on the table, and catch forty winks.

Donpa also sells beans, ground coffee, and the cold-brewed coffee essence if you want to make some at home.

Donpa: 3-4-16 Ginza, Chuo Ward. Tel: 03.3567.3189.

Open daily 10am to 10:30pm. Saturdays 11am to 10:30 pm. Sundays and holidays 11am to 10pm.

You can fine Donpa two backstreets behind the Apple Store and Chanel.

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.



Nagoya-style Miso Tonkatsu at Yabaton in Ginza

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Tonkatsu, a slice of deep-fried breaded pork, is one of Japan’s most loved dishes. The arch-type dish features a crisply fried, mahogany-brown cutlet—either the luscious “ros” (loin) or the leaner “hi-re” (filet)—nestled against an airy mound of raw cabbage filaments, freshly shredded. A small pot of Worchester-style usuta sauce is always on the table to ladle over the cutlet and cabbage. And a dab of hot yellow mustard is usually swiped onto the edge of the plate for those who want a bit of fire to flavor their juicy morsel.

Some sixty years ago in Nagoya, the tonkatsu shop Yabaton started serving its cutlets enrobed in a slightly sweet, red soybean miso sauce. It was a huge success. Yabaton’s lone church of the miso katsu gospel is in the Ginza, a few streets away from the glitz and crowds of the high street.

The most popular order is the Teppan Tonkatsu (1365 yen). The deep-fried cutlet comes on a bed of freshly shredded cabbage sizzling and steaming on an iron plate. Some of the cabbage is softened, slightly sauteéd by the iron plate, but the cabbage under the tonkatsu remain crisp—providing both a textural and taste contrast.

Of course, extra red miso sauce is in the pot, and if you order the set menu (1765 yen), you’ll also get a bowl of miso soup, rice, and some small pink pickles.

For neophytes, Yabaton provides a tiny placard on the table with a set of instructions on how to proceed eating this novel dish:

•First, take a bite of the tonkatsu just as it has been served.

•If you feel the red miso sauce is a bit sweet, add a dab of mustard.

•For those who want to change the taste a little, add some freshly-ground sesame seed from the grinder.

Togarashi, red chili pepper flakes, goes very well with this miso katsu, try some if you like.

•Finally, there are many ways to enjoy eating miso katsu, enjoy them all.

How can you go wrong with instructions like that?

Yabaton: 4-10-14 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03.3546.8810. Open 11am to 10pm. Closed on Mondays.




Ginza kissaten: Café Bechet

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Four minutes and seven seconds are required to craft a cup of coffee at Café Bechet. 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.

After you select the bean you prefer, say Kilimanjaro, and decide on the roasting style—city roast, full city roast, French roast, etc. (the various beans variously roasted daily are on full display in glass Mason jars on shelves behind the long wooden counter)—the master, a serious woman of a certain age, will weigh out the beans on an old balance scale, perhaps taking out or adding a bean or two to get the perfect weight, then pour the beans into an industrial-sized grinder. After a few seconds the beans are ground and she’ll load the fragrant grind into a “neru” (felt) drip filter. Then with a curious up and down, side-to-side, pouring motion (that I’ve not seen anywhere else), she’ll carefully dribble a stream of freshly boiled water into the filter making sure the ground coffee is fully saturated until the finished coffee starts to drain into a small lipped copper pot. After her constant slow pouring has succeeded in filling the pot with a cupful of coffee, she’ll briefly hold the copper pot over a blue gas flame to regain any temperature the liquid has lost during the filtering stage. The coffee is then poured into a pre-warmed porcelain cup.

This is excellent coffee with the taste of each type of bean and each type of roast fully realized. With your coffee, try a slice of the superb gateau chocolate made with Valrhona chocolate.

This is a place for gathering thoughts while listening to jazz from the 1920s and 1930s. Mounted on the rear wall above an old boxy vacuum-tube radio is a trombone whose old brass once gleamed.

Bring a book here, perhaps Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere by André Aciman.

2-2-19 Ginza. Tel: 03.3564.3176. Open weekdays 10:30am to 10:30pm. Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays 12 noon to 9:30pm. The kissaten is quite close to Printemps Department Store near the Yurakucho Subway Line, Ginza 1-chome station, #4 exit.