As if opening up a craft roastery in Paris wasn’t enough, Coutume Café is branching out and heading to Tokyo, with a new café slated to open the first week of April in the popular Aoyama neighborhood at 5-8-10 Minamiaoyama. Sprudge.com is pleased to be first to report on the roaster’s transcontinental expansion, which will include an Alpha Dominche Steampunk brewer in the café, and a separate roasting facility in Japan soon to follow.
Having helped usher in the craft coffee boom in Paris three short years ago, Coutume is set to celebrate its third birthday in March, having made significant progress in transforming the Parisian, and larger French, mindset on coffee. Public cuppings, craft beer collaborations, and a raft of new openings can be found across Paris in 2014, and now Coutume is set to bring their uniquely Parisian take on delicious coffee to Tokyo.
Coutume co-founder Antoine Netien points out that while Japanese roasters buy some of the best beans in the world, they generally have a preference for darker roasts. As Netien puts it, “they just burn it totally.” He mentions a few roasters that are doing lighter roasts, but in general the complaint about typical French coffee is apparently the same in Japan: it’s dark and over-roasted. The Coutume team feel like they have plenty of experience to help them introduce new flavors to that market. Fortunately in Japan the learning curve might go a little quicker than it has in France. “The gap is smaller,” says Tom Clark, Coutume’s other co-founder. “The public is used to standards that are based on some knowledge [about good coffee].”
Clark says that the current Japanese café scene isn’t known for being particularly interactive either. Normally, a Japanese café experience involves walking in, ordering your coffee, saying thank you and leaving. “We want to open it up a bit,” says Clark. And he isn’t just referring to their approach to service–the plan is to install a set of Steampunk Mod 2.1 brewers to give customers a clear view of the coffee production.
Just as they do in their Paris café, Coutume will offer more classic, darker styles of coffee, as well as versions that are on the fruitier and more acidic side. “There is an easy way to bring people in, it’s chocolaty,” says Netien, pointing out that serving someone something acidic and fruity right off the bat “is a shock.”
The coffee served at Coutume Aoyama will first come from Paris while the company gets its Japanese roasting facility set up in a suburb just outside of Tokyo. It is slated to be up and fully operating by the end of the year, headed up by a yet-to-be-named but “notable Northern European roaster,” roasting the beans that Netien sources himself.
In Paris, Coutume has put a lot of focus on educating the public and training the people that serve their coffee–the company just opened up a new roasting space and training center in the 10th arrondissement in Paris. For Coutume Aoyama, the idea is the same. “We want to have a real impact, not just have a beautiful place,” says Clark. That’s visible in the café’s design, which has a simple and inviting coffee bar up front where they will be able to feature different brew methods every month.
Though there is a big focus on experience and interaction, Coutume Aoyama’s visual design is no slouch either. They worked with CUT Architectures on the design, and what they’ve come up with preserves a lot of the striking black-and-white look of the original Coutume, but translates it to a more sleek, smooth style appropriate to the building and area they are going into.
They also want it to be a way to promote a real exchange between the Paris and Tokyo coffee scenes. One barista from Japan will be coming to Paris for a month, and vice versa. While I was chatting with them, I met Ana, one of the new baristas at Coutume Aoyama. What will the biggest difference be between the two cafés? Vacation time. The French are known for their generous vacation schedule, while the Japanese are known for clocking some of the highest work hours in the world. Netien mentions that the concept of vacation time seemed almost foreign to Ana, and that “when I told her how we work, she was pretty happy.”
Beyond Coutume’s coffee, Tokyo will also enjoy access to Coutume’s educational public cuppings, a phenomenon that’s fairly new on the Japanese coffee scene as well. “The idea is to build the biggest educative shop… not to make a franchise,” says Netien.
And while Tokyo has a love of all things French–I am told you can find almost all of the big names in French baked goods and patisseries–Netien refuses to make any choices that will make the café seem too cliche. When asked if the staff at Coutume Aoyama could wear berets as their uniform. “Non non non, no way,” says Netien.
If you’re in Paris, you can check out the current Coutume at 47 Rue de Babylone M-F 8am-7pm, and 10am-7pm on the weekends.
Anna Brones (@annabrones) is the founder of Foodie Underground, and has contributed most recently to Roads & Kingdoms and Slate.com. Read more Anna Brones on Sprudge.