On the corner of busy and busier across from Ebisu station sits a cute little coffee and flower shop. Here, I was fortunate enough to catch-up with local Tokyo writer, Hengtee Lim to discuss books, coffee, and the craft of writing, over a cup of cold brew. I have much to learn about the craft, and to hear how others approach it is as much apart of the journey as the writing itself, although, I don’t let that consume much of my time. I have however, integrated writing into my daily life from what I have learnt from others. And for that, I am forever thankful.
The reality of living in a three-bedroom subdivision with two couples and one bathroom was more than he could handle. Fortunately, there was an old tin garage built in the driveway, which he decided to call home.Then one sunny Thursday afternoon he carried his mattress, guitar, portable CD player and an armful of punk rock albums outside. He would still use his room in the house, but only to store his clothes on the floor, and to keep his Cometbus zines dry. A week later he tied a big blue tarp to cover the gapping hole that would ordinarily be used for a car, however all it was doing was enabled the cool, late-autumn wind to rush in over him as he slept. He never complained. Why would he? The midnight winds have nothing to be feared.
10 years before, he often preferred cold nights out on the streets, over fearful nights in warm houses under hostile environments ran by those with iron fists.
From the outside, very little had changed. His nights still bled into mornings, only sunrise occasionally marking the end of his day. The sound of his electric guitar played acoustically bothered no one. Resentment of the life choices of his housemates drifted away, along with the suffocation he felt being around them.
The nights got colder as winter squeezed in through the gaps in the tin, but the colder it got, the more layers he would wear.
His housemates politely ordered him back in the house many times, but he was determined to live life on his own terms, a life that didn’t resemble theirs, unaware that an unusual and rare throat infection―though not life threatening―forced him back inside the house.
Spring bloomed, the tarp remained, then for a short time two couples became three, and although it didn’t last beyond summer, it wasn’t as painful as he’d imagined, actually, rather pleasant. Maybe everything wasn’t out to get him.
“… ask the barista the secret to brewing…”
We’ve all done it before. You go to a café and drink one of the best cups of coffee you’ve had this week. When leaving, you are compelled to ask the barista what beans they used, then say you must buy a bag. The next morning your aim to to recreate that same cup from yesterday. Your do your usual process, just like every morning, then you take the first sip, you study the cup (like the answer’s written on there), take a second sip and let out a groan. After that you pick up the bag of ground coffee off the table, question whether they sold you the same beans, while looking at the label with a confused expression across your face. However admittedly, it tastes better than your usual cup, but far from what you were expecting. This happened to me last November, since then, I’ve been on the search for the answers.
So what went wrong?
The other day I went to a café in Shibuya called, The Local. I’ve been following their Instagram account for a few months now, and was really keen to get there. It was an 8 minute walk from the station towards Omotesando. I rarely go to that area, hence why I it took me so long to get there.
The name is very fitting, not only does this place feel like a café that I’d be proud to call my local, but it’s also a hub for a subculture of the coffee scene here. The coffee menu gets rotated frequently with beans from small roasteries from all over the world, which I thought was quite cool. I ordered a single origin from Guatemala that was delicately roasted by Rokume down in Nara.
I sat at the counter overlooking the space where the coffee is brewed. I’m not sure why, but given the opportunity, I’ll always choose a counter or a bar over a table. I like to watch how things get made, and how a place works whether it be a café, bar, or restaurant.
I’m still working on brewing better drip coffee at home. Because for years I used a Moka pot or a French press, so therefore I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask the barista the secret to brewing the perfect drip coffee, and this is what she said…
“Put 15 grams of ground coffee into the paper filter. Then pour the water (86 degrees celsius) slowly, with short breaks and in a circular motion. The finished weight of the coffee should equal 225 grams (if you don’t have scales, like me, then 150 ml of water is a close enough equivalent), and that brewing process needs to be completed in 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
Did it work?
Yeah it did. I wasn’t far off before, but the timing of the pour changed everything. My morning coffee has improved dramatically, in fact, I’d really like to get some scales soon, to edge that little bit closer to perfection.
In addition from being completely unaware that my second son was about to be born, I was also blogging a lot more, although in a completely different style to how I do it now. Now, the process I’m following is much better, but far from perfect. You see, I launched this website in April this year, however I’ve struggled to post regularly. Let me explain.
“Have you ever bought a pair of shoes that you don’t want to get scuffed. So, you’re overprotective and only wear them on very special occasions, but by doing this you don’t really get a chance to enjoy the comfort and the pride of owning those shoes. Then in the end they sit on your shelf and you only tell people about them, they become more of a burden than a joy. Then weeks later, they end up ‘owning you’ rather than the other way around. Then finally, they get that first scuff, a little dirty, then you realise that they are nothing but a means to get you from A to B, albeit more stylish than the old pair.”
Quantity X Quality.
These are often hard to produce well when done individually or combined, but not impossible. Therefore during the month of July I have set myself a challenge to produce two blogs a week at the highest quality I can. To stop these becoming just empty words, I have set up an accountability group with members with their own goals for the month, and together we will support each other to complete them.
If you would like to join the group (it’s never too late), just contact me via here or on twitter (@AtkinsonCraig).
In April of this year, I was gifted a cold brew brewing kit from a friend. At the time, I had very little experience with drinking or making cold brew coffee. However, I was excited to give it a try.
The process of making cold brew coffee couldn’t be simpler. Although, I take one extra step before the process: I also roast my own beans.
For a little background, I started roasting coffee at the beginning of this year (2017) as a hobby, and that hobby has taken over my life. Fortunately, there is a business just minutes from home that has a small room from which they sell roasted and green beans and also offer coffee roasting lessons. Inside are two small roasting units. These machines are specifically designed for companies to test small samples of new beans at different roasting levels. This gives them an opportunity to experiment until they get the timing that they want for each variety of bean.
Back to the cold brew..
If you’ve ever made a cup of instant coffee, then you can make cold brew..
I make mine in a 750ml bottle in the exact shape of a wine bottle, although the top is rubber and detaches, which is where I connect the plastic filter. I put 4 scoops of course-ground coffee into the filter, add between 600-700ml of water into the bottle. Then reconnect the rubber top.
At the moment, my ratio is 10-12 grams of ground coffee to about 160ml of cold water. This seems to produce a great finished product. Usually, less water is used when making hot coffee, but this ratio works well for cold brew coffee due to the brewing time.
Well, how long is a piece of string?
Honestly, I’m still experimenting with my brewing time, however I always leave it in the fridge overnight. Doing this gives me a window of 8-16 hours of brewing time, depending on when I made it. By morning, I can just take the rubber top off, disconnect the filter, put the top back on, and it’s ready.
Do you have a different method? Please let me know.
Coffee is something different for everyone. For me, it’s a way of connecting with others. Whether it be through the roasting, the drinking together, the conversation that surrounds it, the writing about it, or all of the above. Through these simple beans a whole new connection can unfold.
I used to think that if I got up earlier, I’d get much more done. However, having more time isn’t the complete answer. It’s what we do in that time that helps us achieve more.
For the last two months I’ve been getting up at 5 am. I started doing it out of pure frustration of what was my current life. I had an ever growing list of projects I wanted to work on, but only seemed to be making little headway, so that’s when I made the decision.
When I first started getting up early, I would jump around from project to project. I would read for ten minutes, then check over and rewrite my to-do list, work on a blog for thirty minutes, then work on something else, then continue to jump from one thing to another. However, after a week or two at this I still had very little to show for it.
So what changed?
I caught up with a friend for coffee, and he shared these kind words with me. He said, that my day should be based around, and in preparation for a small window of one to two hours of writing. No one can write non-stop for six to eight hours in a day, even though we’d all like to. But, that I should focus on creating a clear time, free from all distractions to work on one project. He then went on to say, that every other aspect of my day should be used to fuel that time, by creating, reading, learning, and being inspired.
I have seen this is his life, and in the lives of other creatives that I have spent time with, and it pushes me to emulate that in my life. I have now restructured what I do within my routine to help myself be more productive. Although it’s still a work in progress, and one I know will change over time.
I stood in the doorway of Mi Cafeto, looking around the jazz filled room. A staff member greeted me, I smiled, and like always, wherever I go, I was unsure of which table to choose. Hesitantly, I sat down at the closest one.
At first, I was taken aback by the setting of the café, but on reflection this is only because I am so used to frequenting small cafes, holes in the wall, or tiny shells with standing room only. However, this place was more set up like a traditional café, with painted walls, beautiful art, Italian ceramic tiles on the walls and floor, and soft leather chairs.
I was then given a menu to look over. Printed across a double page of paper were a dozen verities of coffee beans and their descriptions; some I’d never tried before. The menu was completely in Japanese, which made it hard for me to really know which coffee to select. I looked around wondering when my friend might arrive. The café was quiet, with only a couple of costomers. However this is not surprising for Tokyo at a few minutes after ten in the morning.
I looked back down at the menu trying to understand it, but still unsure what to choose. My regular mid-morning beans are often Ethiopian, I like the tea-like body, and floral taste, but being here for the first time, I felt it would be a missed opportunity to not try something new. So I was determined to choose something different, it was just a matter of what that would be.
The waitress approached me for the second time. I explained- not very well, that I was waiting for a friend, and that he shouldn’t be long. Then, just as I said that, he walked in.
He is a semi-regular here, and as he sat down he began telling me about the place.
First, he pointed out the temperature controlled coffee beans cellar on the far wall. I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed it earlier, but because it was behind slightly tinted glass, and from where we sat, it was difficult to work out what it was. He went on to explained that it is where they store green beans for regular private customers, and how he’d like to be one of them someday. Then when they are needed and ordered, they were roasted fresh, then delivered to their door.
“In a PET bottle?” I asked. Next to us was a display of roasted beans for purchase, nicely packaged in plastic bottles.
“Yes, but also in a Champagne bottles.”
I thought this was unusual, but after realizing a sealed plastic pressure resistant bottle would lock in the aroma far better that anything else, and would also slow down the aging process of the beans, I guess it made sense.
We then looked back at the extensive coffee menu, as the waitress returned to take our order. I still hadn’t made a decision on what I was going to drink, however my friend had decided on San Sebastián from Guatemala- one of his favorites here, so I ordered that too.
The coffee came served in a beautifully hand painted ornate ceramic coffee pot, with a matching miniature cup, slightly bigger than an espresso cup. It was mild, nutty, hints of honey, with a slight sourness to finish.
Over the next hour, we quietly chatted over our small individual pots of coffee, in the soft comfortable chairs, inspired by the level of quality that surrounded us. The owner, Jose Kawashima has deeply thought of every detail in the design and experience of this cafe, even down to the choice of using a McIntosh sound system. I am counting the days until I next return to continue their coffee menu, and find a new favorite.