Japan’s coffee culture is quite widespread, particularly in Nagoya where the popular chain cafe, Komeda, originated. It is also a fact that Nagoyans are known to love their ogura toast (butter, margarine or cream, and sweet red bean paste on toast) in the mornings or for an afternoon snack with coffee, and that they like their “morning services” (where you get a whole breakfast for the price of just one order of coffee or tea). Today, I’d like to introduce three of the many independent cafes in Nagoya, each with a unique character that has stood out in my mind.
You know a cafe is going to have character when it has a theme. This cafe’s theme is, as the name indicates, Puss in Boots (European fairy tale). I’m not sure why the owner chose this theme, but you can see it in the cat decorations, the European-looking white columns, and ceramic art decorating the walls.
One thing that I liked about this cafe was the collection of coffee and tea cups lining the shelves behind the barista. Each cup has a different shape, color, and design. If you sit at the counter, you can even choose your own cup depending on your mood that day. I have sat at the counter before and was feeling something feminine, sweet, and pretty that day to make my coffee experience more enjoyable. Letting the barista choose a cup for you is also fun and makes you ponder why they chose that cup for you.
Another highlight of this cafe is the way the coffee is made. They hand drip each cup, taking the time and patience in controlling the pace at which they pour the water into the filter and over the coffee grinds. Depending on who pours your coffee, the flavors may be slightly different, but in all of them, you can taste the attention and devotion put into that one cup.
With the dim lighting, dark wooden tables and chairs, and the antique clock hanging on the wall, stepping into this cafe feels like taking a step back in time. The decor as well as the aroma of roasting coffee beans (they roast them right in the store) provides the cafe with a kind of character in itself. However, what kept me going back was their lunch menu.
Aside from the regular menu, there is also a lunch menu consisting of two choices: one being pasta, the other, stew. It is quite rare to find a cafe serving stew everyday. Each day features a different stew, and whether it’s a seafood, veggie, or meat stew, they are all hearty and somewhat comforting to gobble down. You can even check on the website what kind of stew will be served during the week (make sure to go before 2:00 PM though as they often sell out).
The accompanying salad also changes day to day, which you can see on the website, too. You’ll have a choice of house-made bread (comes in two types) or the rice of the day (for example: butter rice or tomato rice). The bread is always moist, and the rice, although unconventional, compliments the stew of the day well. Then at the end of the meal, you can enjoy the coffee made with the roasted beans whose aroma hit your nose the minute you walked in.
In contrast to the previous cafe, this one has a more upbeat atmosphere with the abundance of different potted plants and flowers brightening the store. It is almost clear that the owner loves gardening (even the staircase leading up to the second floor is lined with plants). One thing that gives this cafe its character is the performance. You might be thinking, “Performance in a cafe? What kind of performance?”, but if you order the cafe latte, you would see what I am talking about.
One of the waiters (or if you’re lucky, the owner with personality) will come and place an empty cup on your table. He’ll then disappear for a bit and come back with a long ladder and place it next to the table, close to the empty cup. Depending on his audience, his story might change, but for me, he talked about two people becoming one once they find love for each other. Next, he climbs the ladder (larger than just a foot ladder) to a height where he could almost sit at the top, all while holding onto small flasks in each hand. He will then bring the flasks as close as he can to the cup and start pouring. Out comes milk from one flask and coffee from the other, neatly flowing into the cup. Slowly, the pourer will stretch out to a standing position and bring his hands toward the ceiling, still with the liquid streaming out and coming together in the cup, without making a mess (a surprise since the owner’s hands shook quite a bit when he brought my sandwich). Now you see there is a reason this latte is known as “Japan’s tallest latte.” Once the cup is full, the performance is almost done. The last time I was there, the owner continued to entertain by offering to take some fun pictures with my camera.
If you think about it, this takes not only a steady hand, but concentration to control the amount of milk and coffee to make what the guest will eventually be drinking. The latte also comes with a small cup of whipped cream so you can control how much you want it to become a sweet and rich dessert drink.
If you’re in the Nagoya area, why not take a break from the bustle of the city and step into one of these cafes? The easy-to-relax atmosphere and character of each one will have you stepping out feeling refreshed.