Cafe de L’Ambre – Revisited

Ichiro Sekiguchi might have been considered by many the Godfather of coffee in the East – at the very least in the country of Japan. I first heard about him when he was in his mid 90’s, and was full of joy to be able to shake his hand when he was 100 years of age. This week I finally made it back to Tokyo and went directly to his Cafe de L’Ambre. Knowing that he is not there the whole day and being I arrived late afternoon, as I was leaving, I asked about him.

Iconic Lamp made for Cafe de L’Ambre / Sigma DP2 Merrill / Sila Blume 2018

In March of this year he passed away, they informed me. With sad heart and clearly unhappy face, I extended my condolences to Fujihiko Hayashi, his nephew who replied with a smile: “He lived to be 103”.

It is an odd feeling, not seeing him walking around or inspecting the coffee seeds being roasted or knowing that he will be driven in the next morning on the motorcycle, as I witnessed several times before. Yet, day after day, the operation continues with its success and oddities. There are not too many places like the Cafe de L’ambre in the world – of this I am certain.

An unusual coffee concept, serving several aged coffees from Cuba, Africa and South America

  • Long-serving management. Sensei Sekiguchi opened in 1948 and as a centenarian was still roasting on regular basis, except on Sundays
  • No wi-fi available
  • Nowhere does one sit closer together at the bar than at Cafe de L’Ambre
  • Most serving utensils have been developed by Sekiguchi himself – various porcelain cups, cans, filters
  • Coffee is cooled in a cocktail shaker by rolling it in an indented block of ice, kept in a freezer that due to age should be in a museum as exhibition piece
  • In a room built to specification for Sekiguchi, raw coffee is stored for decades
  • Their strict pouring tradition continues. The filters filled with coffee are moved in a circle while the kettle with the water is kept in a fixed position

Cafe de L’ambre is an exemplary institution in the Japanese tradition of consistency, the same that keeps them competitive, relevant, important and qualitative special.

Coffee only (and a pipe, in honor to Sensei Sekiguchi) / Motorola G4 / Sila Blume 2018
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Japanese in New York

This is not a cup that deserves daily usage.

The moment in which it is used could be seen as a celebration.

Nothing I know about this tiny piece of composed porcelain tells me anything about ordinary life on an ordinary day with an ordinary coffee.

Demitasse from Café de L'ambre, Tokyo, Japón / Leica D-Lux 4
Demitasse from Café de L’ambre, Tokyo, Japón / Leica D-Lux 4

Reading Spaces

I do not know if my basic reading system is framed by a talent, luck or wealth of experience, but dozens of times visiting cities for the first time, not having a clue as to where a good coffee might be located, I must rely on what I read through a window. Wherever and whenever I decided to enter, I was satisfied with their coffee offerings. Only once – just a few months ago – my choice to enter turned out to be a bad one. It was in Soho, New York, where I did not feel like walking to the next coffee spot I am familiar with, and spotted a new locality with a respectable coffee machine installed on a convincing spot. My nose told me to keep going, so I did. As I turned the corner, I chose to give it a chance and safe myself a walk and time, so I returned an entered. My cappuccino was served in the wrong cup – making it an unbalanced drink – and several other things did not make me happy.

A dissection of my system of analysis when trying to decide where and where not to enter, could be safely broken down into a short list of aspects that could be observed through the window of the establishment.  Namely, the interior architecture, the décor, even sometimes a glance at the baristi and staff, in general, an attentive viewing of the atmosphere.

91b3a314de3711e18e7522000a1e8a86_7Everything found in a space is filled with expressions about the intended mindset: the inclination to nature, to artificiality, towards fastness, dwelling, or mere practical effectiveness, etc. I must read signs of dedication with a purpose and a demanding attitude to quality somewhat clearly, in order to enter. If we care, we are attentive and if attentive, we see clear signs, at least enough to connect several dots properly.

I believe that seeing a framed print of a Norman Rockwell in a predominant space of a coffee shop or house will attract a certain crowd and make a certain statement about what the atmosphere and thus what the offered product might deliver. When I see plastic flowers and plants as decoration, I do not read dedication.

Zibetto is an Italian-style espresso bar I saw firstly on my regular visits to the former De La Concha Smoke Lounge (now Davidoff of Geneva) on New York’s Sixth Avenue. As we know from the traditional Italian style of earlier days, the menu is displayed on a black board with a textile surface, on which individual white letters could be slid into any desired position.

Right next to the  Nat Sherman Townhouse, where I have become a regular in the last few months, there is another Zibetto Espresso Bar. Towards the end of the long and narrow space, on the back wall there is a simple but expressive mural, designed and produced by Jonas Lundgren, a student at Parsons School of Design in New York.

A space should be a coherent picture. The quality of the product sold must be reflected on the decoration, furniture, face and fashion of the staff, even – when possible – in the architecture. Seeing a mural that suggests a high level of dedication and a fair amount of professionalism, invites me in and informs me greatly about what I could expect.

Mural by Jonas Lundgren / Zibetto, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4
Mural by Jonas Lundgren / Zibetto, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4

Beauty Beholds!

A new acquisition from the house of Bavaria Tirschenreuth – 647 –  Clifton 4246. A Demitasse dedicated thus to the right amount of coffee for the demanding palate and dedicated as well to pleasing the eye.

Bavaria Tirschenreuth - 647 - Clifton 4246 / Leica D-Lux 4
Bavaria Tirschenreuth – 647 – Clifton 4246 / Leica D-Lux 4
Bavaria Tirschenreuth - 647 - Clifton 4246 / Leica D-Lux 4
Bavaria Tirschenreuth – 647 – Clifton 4246 / Leica D-Lux 4
Bavaria Tirschenreuth - 647 - Clifton 4246 / Leica D-Lux 4
Bavaria Tirschenreuth – 647 – Clifton 4246 / Leica D-Lux 4

Details of an old Elektra for true Espresso

Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4