Coffee in Japan: Seeking Perfection at Cafe Use in Tokyo

[Photographs: Jay Friedman]

At Cafe Use, a short walk from Shimokitazawa Station in Tokyo, signs in the window ward off cell phone users, smokers, young children, and people seeking espresso or cappuccino. There's no wifi for computer users. And while there are a few varieties of tea and some yuzu-ginger juice, it's otherwise just coffee, with homemade cheesecake as the only food to be found.

This is a coffee shop for coffee purists.

Cafe Use Exterior

Atsushi Furuichi opened Cafe Use ten years ago during a boom of coffee shop openings in Tokyo. He wanted to quit the rigors of the "salaryman" life, but while he wasn't looking to go into the coffee business, he couldn't find a cup he really liked until discovering the ability to make one of his own. Business was slow at first, especially with the barriers he built, but Furuichi had a vision and kept at it.

"Use" refers to the used collectibles in his captivating cafe, which include matchbook covers, Coleman camping lanterns, cameras, and more. But Furuichi also chose the name to pay homage to the old items by actually using them, as with old school furniture for seating and Fire-King Jadeite glassware for drinking.

Cups of Coffee

Coffee, served in the Fire-King Jade-ite glassware that Furuichi collects. Cups cost 630 yen (about $6.00), with refills 400 yen.

When I asked Furuichi about various factors in coffee-making, like types of filters and brewing times and such, he always came back to the answer: "Just get better beans." He carefully sources beans from around the world and has a menu book of coffee offerings, with star rankings based on bitterness. The "Use" blend is three stars out of five on the bitterness scale, and while I didn't try the Niga Niga ("Bitter Bitter") blend at five stars, I especially enjoyed the four-star "More Bitter" blend.

Furuichi roasts small batches constantly with his Diedrich roasting machine, and sells his beans from a showcase in the front of the store. In addition to the blends, he offers single-origin beans from Brazil, Tanzania, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kenya, Columbia, New Guinea, and Sumatra.

Slow, Precise Pouring

With your purchase, you can get a handwritten instruction sheet on how to brew the coffee using Furuichi's recommended pour-over technique. He uses a whopping 40 grams of coffee to produce a 240cc (about 8 ounce) cup, pouring very slowly in an area about the size of a quarter. The slow and deliberate technique results in a pour time of about five minutes. "Take more time, and the taste gets better," is what Furuichi explains. Customers seem to agree, as many silently contemplate the coffee as they drink. It's the smile and an "arigato" from a departing customer that Furuichi says is the happiest part of his job.

More snapshots from Cafe Use in the slideshow ยป

Cafe Use

3-31-3 Kitazawa, Setagaya, Tokyo 155-0031 Japan (map) (81) 3-3466-5058;