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Research Begins in Earnest

Yesterday I began my coffee research in earnest at two cafes, one well-known for its coffee and another I stumbled upon by chance.

The first place I went (promptly at 8:30 am) was called Higashide Coffee. It's run by (go figure) Higashide-san and the shop is strictly drip coffee (not espresso). They even do their own coffee bean roasting in-shop.

Each glass jar is labeled by country of origin and there's a few jars that say "Higashide Blend".

From what I was able to see, the Japanese way of making drip coffee is both complicated and time consuming. Each cup of coffee is made to order--including the grinding of the beans--and is at least a five minute process. 

1. The beans--enough for a single cup--are ground to order. 
2. The grounds are then placed in a cone of filter paper, which is then placed into an open-bottomed funnel that feeds into a small pot.
3. Hot water in a silver pot is checked for temperature, then poured from one pot to another. 
4. For no more than five seconds, a thin stream of water is poured in a circular motion over the grounds. Then after a thirty second or so wait, another five-second pour. This repeats seven times. 
5. In the meantime, some hot water is poured into a tea cup to warm it. 
6. When the filter paper is a toasty shade of brown and the coffee is done percolating, the result is poured into the teacup (after the hot water is discarded). 
7. The resulting cup--very small by American standards--is then served. 

While there was a rotating group of regulars that Higashide-san and his workers seemed familiar with and willing to talk to, when I mentioned my research there was a distinct, ah, lack of interest that I quickly perceived would not likely respond well to pushing for answers. So after finishing my cup of coffee and paying I left. 

Just down the street from Higashide Coffee there was another small, hole-in-the-wall shop called Urara that I decided to enter on a whim. I was greeted by a very sweet "Mama-san" who was so surprised and pleased by my ability to speak Japanese. I ordered a cup of coffee (man this was the most caffeine I'd ever had, I was so caffeine tolerance is pathetic) which she made via siphon. 

Now, siphons aren't really a method we have here in America. It looks like a science experiment:

The brewing process is much more standardized. Grounds (which Urara buys from Key Coffee, a large bean distributor) are put in an open-ended cylinder which feeds into the water-filled glass orbs. The water is heated from beneath, and then hot water literally bubbles up into the grounds above it. When the water is completely gone from the sphere, it then slowly drips back down as coffee. It's like an hourglass. 

Mama-san stirring the grounds as the cylinder fills with water. 

Here it's dripping back down as coffee. 

According to Mama-san, using a siphon makes more consistent coffee than the drip method. 

I ended up staying at Urara for three hours talking about coffee, but also just chatting with her about life in general since she was very friendly. Several regulars--all older--came in and I had the same conversation about what I was doing here several times. Several filled out my questionnaire, and from the others I was able to glean some information about their habits and preferences. Not a bad day, all in all. 


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