Osaka is a city famous for its passion for food and drink, and it has a lot to boast about. Takoyaki (fried octopus balls), okonomiyaki (savory cabbage pancakes), udon noodles, and oshizushi (a regional style of sushi) are all claims to Osaka’s fame. But coffee hasn’t been on its list of bragging points. Still, there are whispers of a coffee revolution happening in this great town. After hearing about an emerging new wave coffee scene in Osaka, I set off for the spot on every coffee enthusiast’s list: Takamura Wine & Coffee Roasters.
In the heart of Nishi-ku, a ward in Osaka famous for being well-planned and modern, I approached a two-story warehouse with a gleaming glass front. Warm incandescent light poured out of the building onto patio seating, where couples sipped coffee at cafe tables. Inside, I was greeted by corrugated metal ceilings and exposed steel beams. Built within this industrial cocoon are shelves, staircases, pillars, and scaffoldings made of light wood—a wine cellar inside of a garage. Inside this juxtaposition of contemporary construction and old-world style: thousands of bottles of wine from every origin imaginable.
Takamura’s mission is simple: to make great wine available to the oenophiles of Japan. It boasts an inventory of 2,200 different wines with price tags ranging from the equivalent of $10 to around $10,000. The clientele is varied: well-to-do middle-age business types roam the aisles filling their carts with choice bottles, while young couples on dates grab sips of wine from pay-by-the-cup electronic dispensers.
The left wall of Takamura reveals a full-service coffee operation run by hip—but serious—young baristas. There I was met by Yuya Iwasaki, who took my order for an espresso and answered the question on my mind: why coffee and wine?
He explained that Takamura’s top brass had noticed a trend: a restaurant would serve good food paired with good wine, and after the meal would come dessert and a cup of coffee; but the coffee was usually bad. “Why does everyone take food and wine so serious, but forget about the coffee?” they wondered. They began to investigate the coffee industry. The similarities between wine and coffee culture interested them even more. Concepts like the importance of region, the care taken in raising a crop, the tasting process, and the complex flavors in each cup were all familiar. In 2013, Takamura built up a coffee team and set out to provide restaurants with not only top-shelf wine, but specialty coffee as well.
A look at the gear behind the counter shows that coffee is taken as seriously here as wine. A custom La Marzocco Strada EP sits on the counter next to a Nuova Simonelli Mythos One Clima-Pro grinder for the espresso blend, while single-origin espressos are ground on a Mazzer Kony. Pour-overs are prepared via Hario V60 and ground on a Kalita Nice Cut Mill. Off to the side, a 35-kilogram Loring Smart Roast machine gleams. At the time of my visit, the coffee menu featured six Cup of Excellence winners and two national winner options in addition to 13 other unique choices.
A lot of thought and planning clearly went into this operation. The lighting, in particular, was striking. The baristas' work area's soft incandescent bulbs add to the atmosphere and support the feeling of human connection to the beverage; there’s even a dim spotlight focused on the pour-over station. In stark contrast, the roasting area has bright-white LED lighting, which gives an industrial vibe to the production space. There is no wall between the two sections, but they are clearly separated. On all sides there are wood, leather, and oriental rugs—but also poured concrete, high-powered heating and cooling, and exposed electrical fixtures. Everything is warm, but wide open; classic hospitality meets modern efficiency.
I sunk into a deep, brown leather armchair by the window and took another look around. The place buzzed with young mothers on coffee dates, tourists from Western countries, businessmen stealing a few moments alone, and even old bickering couples. A group of friends chatted at a large table; a lone reader sat in a cozy chair for one. All were drawn by the love for, or curiosity toward, a drink. I sipped my Panama La Esmeralda Geisha pour-over while my friend sipped his 1980 Cabernet Sauvignon from Caymus Vineyards. They both offered a little comfort in a cup.
Eric Tessier is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo. Read more Eric Tessier on Sprudge.