While out taking photos around the main shopping street in Kyoto I spotted a couple of friendly looking, stylishly dressed guys disappearing down the steps into an understated looking cafe / restaurant.
In line with my recommended way to enjoy day to day life – I decided to follow!
What I found was Otafuku Coffee (御多福珈琲).
Otafuku is an old style traditional coffee shop.
I’ve come across a few traditional coffee shops in Japan. I think they are modelled on an old style Parisian influence. It’s all dark wood, burgundy velvet covered seats, and china coffee cups and saucers.
To enter Otafuku you go down a narrow set of stairs and upon opening the door you have a number of small tables to the left, a booth to the right and a bar with around 7 seats opposite you.
I took a seat at the bar and I noticed the barista had just made hand drip / pour over coffee for another customer.
I ordered the same.
For the next few minutes watching the coffee be prepared I couldn’t have been happier – It was a meticulous display of attention to detail and skill.
The first thing I spied was a large metal kettle on a burner. No electric kettles or fancy coffee machines here. As I sat there I noticed how lovely it was to hear the water simmering away in the big kettle and to see a little steam.
To prepare my coffee they filled a smaller pouring kettle / pot with hot water from the large kettle. If you are familiar with pour over coffee, this is the type of kettle with the long thin spout. Then they filled the glass server (the thing the coffee filters into) and the cup with hot water from that.
So this first step was getting everything up to the right temperature to ensure my coffee was brewed / served correctly. This reminded me of the way I learned to prepare tea in the traditional Chinese tea ceremony.
I’ve never seen this done in London despite going to a lot of ‘gourmet’ coffee shops.
Next, the main attraction! – the barista put a filter and freshly ground coffee into the pour over device (what are they called?). Then using fresh hot water in the small kettle he began to pour this over the coffee.
I think this is where skill and experience come in. I previously read that the size / consistency of the ground coffee together with the motion and speed of the pour are key to how the coffee will come out.
At Otafuku I noticed the Barista had the telltale signs of highly practiced actions – almost automatic and precise movements. He poured the hot water in circular motion over the ground coffee using his whole body in the motion. It reminded me of the way you are taught to draw circles and straight lines using your whole arm / body, not just your wrist.
The coffee was then served to me in a china cup and saucer.
I’m no connoisseur, but I do like coffee and I visit a lot of coffee shops in London. However I am often disappointed. If I am honest I find what I am served with is often too bitter, or watery.
However, the coffee at Otafuku was rich and flavourful without being bitter. I tried both with and without cream, it was excellent both ways.
One of the things I could really appreciate about Otafuku was they aren’t trying to be cool or elitist. They seem to be trying to do two things 1) make good coffee and 2) create a nice community environment for people to enjoy coffee.
Everything; from the layout of the store, to the equipment and process used seems to serve these two objectives.
The lack of trying to be cool, makes it very cool in my book!
My first visit was at around 8pm. I went back the next day at 2pm before leaving Kyoto. On this second visit half of the seats of the small bar were full. While I was there people came and went, a few came on their own and spent 10 minutes chatting to the owner and other customers.
Not just a coffee shop, but a community spot for friendly people who enjoy coffee and friends.
I regret we don’t have businesses like this in the UK.
Small coffee shops / bars / restaurants with counter seats and friendly locals aren’t rare in Japan. But Otaku nails it in terms of doing the small community orientated business together with one of the best and most skilfully made coffee’s I’ve had.
For my day job I do contract consulting in finance transformation. It sounds complicated, but it’s not really. I simply work with finance departments to try and simplify or otherwise improve the way the operate. In that world there is a lot of talk of complex analysis methods, complex IT systems etc. But often I find that most companies have difficulties simply because people aren’t clear about what they should be doing. And further to that they are not motivated to do what they do well.
Doing even the most simple actions can be turned from a mundane task into an exercise in engineering or art – depending on how you look at it.
The action of pouring hot water over coffee is so simple, but yet has such opportunity to became something beautiful.
This is my take away from Coffee Otafuku. Not just a cup of coffee, but a zen outlook on life.
Imagine if we could put this kind of energy into more things in life. Imagine the next time you attend a meeting, a party, or are given a report or a gift. In any of these scenarios if the preparation had the care and attention to detail we see at Coffee Otafuku wouldn’t it be amazing?