Vintage Coffee from Cuba in Tokyo

There it comes again – my attraction towards Japan is there once more. This time around, however, it is not because of the Noh-Plays or Yukio Mishima. It is because of coffee.

Sensei Sekiguti Itirou / Owner

This coffee story taking place in a land where tea is of great importance and the people are so keen of  their tradition, draws its beginning with a shipment that never reached its destination. During the second world war the germans took some coffee from Indonesia and stored it in Japan. After losing the war they left the land, but leaving some of this coffee behind them. This is the coffee some individuals like Sekiguti Itirou (or Sekiguchi Ichiro) used to start Café de l’Ambre in Ginza, Tokyo. The initial success of the Café was due to the us-american Soldiers and their guests. Today the success is based on a special alchemy – vintage coffee. The logic and experience of a coffee connoisseurs would normally bring skeptical looks and thoughts when one tries to explain any advantages in the taste of a coffee which has aged a couple of decades. But the experiences and visits of people like Ken Belson, hemmant jha or Michael Kleindl, plus a few other bloggers, testify of a true gourmet coffee.

Tokyo Explorer Sarmoung Roaster on the Roof

Mr. Sekiguti – 96 yrs. – still roasts the coffee for his customers on a daily basis in the roaster he designed. He runs the café with his nephew – Mr. Hayashi – for a demanding clientele they themselves have trained over the years to be demanding. Their guests await a coffee menu with new coffee mixtures, as well as coffees which have been in his cellar for a couple of decades. Among others there is a 1974 harvest from Cuba and one of 1989 from Columbia.

china cup blue
china cup white

The peculiarity of this Café is not simply the coffee quality, but also the handling of their product. All coffees are prepared with heated water on the stove and costumed made cloth bags. Pure trade! No expensive coffee machines are available, no Espresso could be ordered. And just as many are aware of it, esthetics in Japan play a very important role. I have seldom seen such beautiful cups in a Café, and this in a very warm and inviting atmosphere.

In this Café you get “coffee only”. And for this coffee they use the least amount of water possible. There is not a great amount of coffee in these cups and these are about the half of the size of a traditional Espresso cup. Hence we are speaking about the Essence of Coffee, pretty much the quality of a Black Aristippos. If a large coffee is ordered, they simply let more water drip into the coffee-grind in the cloth bag and take a larger cup to serve it. Cups, cloth bags and pots, all these objects have been developed over the years to reach the form and functionality they have today. The spout of the pots is an example of the observations they have been able to transport into functionality design of their equipment. The cloth bags also developed over the years and many cloth types were used, before they decided to use rumble flannelette.

rumble flannelette coffee filter
left: pot with special spout, right: usual pot in the market

All Fotos are the property of Café de l’Ambre



4 thoughts on “Vintage Coffee from Cuba in Tokyo

  1. Beautiful piece. Great photos too. I had not noticed the spout difference on the pourer. I’m sure that’s why L’Ambre is able to get such a lovely bead of water onto the coffee. It reminds me of pearls falling.

  2. Thank you much!

    But I continue to envy you.

    I do look forward to reading about other good Cafés in Japan you may write about.


  3. Pingback: Why Coffee? |

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