Sakae is a shopping district in Nagoya known for its high-end fashion stores. Here in the heart of the city, pedestrians crowd the streets peering into the windows of Louis Vuitton and Tokyu Hands. As I walk amidst the boutiques and classy department stores, I’m surprised to stumble upon a coffee stand on the sidewalk in front of a clothing shop. The portable kiosk offers Hario V60 pour-overs as well as AeroPress and features beans from two of Tokyo’s top roasters: Switch Coffee Tokyo and Onibus Coffee. It’s shocking to find such offerings in an otherwise heavily corporate coffee area, so I strike up a conversation with the barista manning the stand. He points above his head to reveal that up a flight of stairs is his cafe, Maison YWE (pronounced like the letter “Y”).
Up the stairs I’m greeted by a two-group Slayer on the counter—the only Slayer in Nagoya at this time—which is a promising sign. To the side of the Slayer is a crowded pour-over station. The coffee and kitchen share a workspace in the center of the cafe and customer seating can be found on either end of the store. It’s unconditionally hip here. The decor is a combination of dried plants, raw concrete, and light wood tones. Towards the staircase entrance there is veranda seating, which is encased in thick plastic during the winter to keep the cool air out. A kerosene heater in the center of the room keeps the chatting clientele warm in this semi open-air space. The opposite side of the cafe has more interior seating and large glass windows allowing natural light to flood in. The short hallway connecting the two customer areas is lined with bar-style seating. There’s very little wasted space here.
Maison YWE is a sit-down-style cafe, meaning the servers come to you. The staff scrambles to get coffee and pastry orders in while the baristas try to time their coffee preparations so that food and drink can be served simultaneously. This attention to detail isn’t uncommon in coffeehouses around here, but the coffee being served at Maison YWE is. The new wave coffee style still hasn’t made much of a splash in Nagoya, where dark roast reigns supreme. It seems that for now the majority of people prefer smoky chocolatey flavors in their cup, but some are beginning to give lighter roasts a go, and Maison YWE is happy to facilitate.
Takumi Oiwa, store manager at Maison YWE, tells me that they wanted to serve coffee that matched their tarts and pastries. Their baked offerings are slightly sweet, light, and delicate, so coffee with the same characteristics was the natural choice. I asked whether customers are surprised by the flavor profiles in this style of coffee. Takumi laughs when he tells me that once a customer took him aside and told him frankly, “You’ve made a mistake with my drink.” But overall, most are pleased. The Maison YWE team decided to feature coffee from Tokyo because they wanted to have interesting beans not usually available in this area, hoping to draw in coffee enthusiasts. Most of their clientele is brought in by word-of-mouth recommendations. “Coffee lovers seek out good coffee,” Takumi says.
Looking around, it seems that perhaps this experiment is a success. Customers are happily sipping their drinks and munching little cakes all around me. On this cool day there is an hour wait just to sit down, and people are willing to do so. I guess that explains the mobile coffee stand downstairs serving to-go beverages. It’s a sort of overflow control. Sometimes the Maison YWE stand can be found at local markets and events, helping to spread this newer style of coffee culture to the area. Here’s to hoping they succeed.
Eric Tessier is freelance journalist based in Tokyo. This is Eric Tessier's first feature for Sprudge.com.