Even from the outside, there’s an air of simplicity to Down the Stairs. Floor-to-ceiling windows are held neatly by black metal frames, while a simple title decorates the doorway. Inside, smartly dressed staff in white button-up shirts and tan aprons work quietly, neatly, and ceaselessly, the open kitchen a harmonious buzz of lunch preparations. A classic jazz soundtrack wafts over the muted hustle and bustle, and the intimate space is warm with light conversation.
It’s in this space of simple elegance that we found Atelier September’s Frederik Bille Brahe, visiting Tokyo to share his culinary talents, and with them a unique specialty coffee experience, courtesy of Koppi Coffee Roasters.
The Atelier September/Down the Stairs collaboration is a natural meshing of similar mindsets and hearts. On his travels through Japan, Bille Brahe met Sonya Park, founder and Creative Director of Arts & Science (the banner under which Down the Stairs falls) and the two eventually teamed up for Down the Stairs’ January Supper Club event, a sporadic pop-up aiming to showcase a variety of unique food experiences.
For Bille Brahe, the pop-up was about the journey of self-discovery. “It really puts a focus on what cooking is, when you go to a different country,” he says. “Everything is different: language, products, ingredients. You have to adapt, so you get a sense for where your limitations are.”
And what enchants him is the Japanese approach to life and work. “Whether it’s a barista preparing coffee or a person directing traffic, people often have a single-minded concentration on the task at hand. Each task is equally important, and fulfilled with great care. I learn a lot from cooking here. I’m acquiring a new depth of things, doing less, but being more expressive. Instead of expanding, you’re moving inwards.”
Listening to Bille Brahe speak like this, one gets a keen sense what Down the Stairs means to him. The plates, mugs, and coffee pourers are all carefully made craftwork; at once simple, they are equally unique. And as the coffee is poured and the table warms with the smell of Kenyan Kabingara AB, there’s a realization that the environment, too, has been designed with simplicity, relaxed communication, and comfort in mind.
For Bille Brahe, Koppi's coffee service—which concluded January 25th—was about finding a simple, quality taste to match the minimalist approach to the food menu. It meant finding a coffee that expressed in both aroma and taste a very particular kind of simplicity and beauty.
Partners since Atelier September first opened its doors, Bille Brahe and Koppi cupped a variety of coffees before deciding on a Kenyan coffee from the Kibugu region, boasting unique tea- and grape-like flavors and floral, vibrant, fruity notes.
For his part, Brahe is keen to wax poetic on Koppi's offerings at the Tokyo pop-up. “[The coffee] for me is very interesting because it has this unique expression—it develops your brain and your tastes. Much like natural wine, it’s difficult to go back once you’ve experienced something like this the first time. It’s interesting, it’s sexy, it’s nice…and I think it’s a beautiful match.”
For Koppi’s founders Anne Lunell and Charles Nystrand, the chance to share coffee with Japan was one they relished. “I want to bring my experience of our trip back home,” says Lunell. “Most of my life I’ve lived in Scandinavia, and I think we can learn a lot from Japanese hospitality. It's hard to explain if you haven’t been here, but everyone is so friendly, warm, and helpful. It's a special atmosphere—it is genuine.”
Adds Brahe, “That's the whole idea of coming here. We arrive with something, we share it with the people, and they can keep it if they want, but us too, we're always learning from everyone around us. We develop because of those around us.”
This sense of giving and receiving is a chance to share passions and enthusiasm—and perhaps the reason Koppi’s visit to Down the Stairs included a special cupping for staff and guests alike. And though there are no immediate plans for a more permanent Koppi presence in the Tokyo coffee scene just yet, one has to hope that the Atelier September pop-up will herald further coffee-culture exchanges at Down the Stairs, and throughout Tokyo.