Release Date: Jun 9, 2017
I’ve always thought of Saitama as one big bed town for a lot of the people who work and study in Tokyo. Come to think of it, in the 10 years I’ve resided in Tokyo, I can only recall having entered the prefecture twice.. both times to see a band play at the arena. But as our second coffee road trip was being scheduled and as I was getting a glimpse of the establishments we were shortlisting, I quickly become excited seeing the local parts of Saitama with my own eyes. Come along as we cover the majority of the prefecture and select four spots to have coffee at!
Our first stop is Mameshiba Coffee in the city of Toda. Located on the 2nd floor of a modest 2-story building, white sheets can be seen hanging in front of the windows, blowing gently in the wind. I have seen these plain sheets draping at some of my favourite shops/restaurants in Kyoto (Monk, Kitone, etc) and have always associated them with excellent Japanese craftsmanship. An antique sewing machine table at the top of the stairs amongst various other items give off a slow-life feel inside. A sign kindly states to please keep noise inside at a minimum. This is my ideal way to relax over a cup of coffee; jazz music plays quietly, you hear the birds tweet tweet outside, and you feel a lovely breeze.
As expected, the coffee is all controlled by the human hand here, i.e no espresso machine. We order the drip coffee which is a moderately dark Brazil / Ethiopia blend. We also order the sparkling coffee which is the seasonal item. It’s a refreshing iced coffee using lemon sparkling mineral water, which really hits the spot. All beans are supplied by popular local roaster Mamezo Coffee.
Senkiya is one part of “Shinmachi”; a group of independent shops/businesses in Kawaguchi that have gathered and created a special community-like area. The time I spend at Senkiya is like floating on a cloud in heaven… There’s the car mechanic, the gallery curator, the architect, the graphic designer, the leather goods man, the coffee roaster (of course!) just to name a few. I either pop into their little huts and am welcomed with warm smiles and open arms or they come out of shops to meet and greet me. And despite meeting everyone for the first time, I really don’t feel like it is my first time. It was all started by Takahashi-san who actually spent time working at Shozo in Tochigi prefecture (check out our first road trip column on Shozo here), and was inspired by the community aspect of the Shozo Cafe. Fast forward to today, Takahashi-san has set up a warm and attractive area… with a beautiful aura of independence, collaboration and authenticity.
It’s a real breath of fresh air compared to any of the new areas that I’ve seen pop up in and around Tokyo… that always seem to be just like other ones. Senkiya has quickly become one of my favourite spots in the world… and I’m pretty sure I’ll be speaking to everyone I meet about it for a long long time.
The coffee served at Senkiya is roasted by The Modern Coffee. They roast on site (just next door to Senkiya actually) and source their green beans through Maruyama Coffee who have a reputation for always purchasing the best of the best at COE auctions. The coffee I had at Senkiya was as close to a perfect cup as I’ve had, which is no doubt a reflection on a cafe and roaster working closely together.
Yaichi is an exquisite family-owned and operated gallery/cafe, which was founded about 8 years ago in Kitamoto. Every 2 months or so a new exhibition is held showing beautiful new ceramics. The ceramics being exhibited are actually used (as much as possible) in the cafe at the same time, so guests can feel what it’s like to drink from them. As well as the temporary exhibitions, there is a beautiful curated selection of ceramics and other items available for purchase. If you’re into ceramics, antiques and interior then Yaichi is well worth visiting. This is a column on coffee, but the beautiful hidden tea room must get a mention also. Your heart will skip a beat.
Your coffee is made at a beautiful modern version of a traditional tea counter; the barista uses a bamboo ladle (used in tea ceremony) to scoop water out of a furo (portable brazier) and is poured bit by bit into a Takahiro Kettle which is then used to make pour over coffee. The process reflects the rituals of tea ceremony itself. A nearby roaster delivers roasted beans in small batches. Our coffee goes really well with some of Yaichi’s chocolate cake.
A good friend told me about Cafe Sorte about 2 years ago, and ever since I laid my eyes on it I’d been desperate to visit. I’m so happy to be finally here. The cafe/roaster itself operates out of a 100 year old kura (a traditional Japanese storehouse) which used to store sake, post office parcels and other things. From the outside it looks like it hasn’t really been touched in 100 years… but on the inside the husband and wife team have done a great job making it look and feel very homely. You can purchase coffee goods, as well as arts and crafts on the second floor, and live music events are sometimes held too… I hear their second “Coffee Connection” event will be held from October 27-30. keep an eye on the website for more information.
The owner, Sayoko-san, spent many years in Canada as a barista, and developed a keen interest in coffee roasting after participating in a roasting workshop in San Francisco. She has also spent time on a coffee farm in Hawaii and carries with her a real appreciation of how hard farmers work when she goes about making coffee. The experience with the farmers was nothing short of unforgettbable, according to Sayoko, and is the thing that keeps her working hard. We ordered a delicious single origin from Kenya made with a French Press together with an Ansando (a red-bean paste scone).
*When you visit coffee shops in Saitama, please tag your photos with the hashtag #goodcoffee_saitama (more information here!)