Can we talk?
Coffee talk, that is. Ah, that aroma! That wonderful alluring elixir! But, how best does one describe coffee’s affect on the palate, those rich notes of flavor you experience when reveling in, say, a macchiato, con panna?
Don’t worry. Tully’s, that “other” chain from Seattle, has created a clever pamphlet titled “The Art of Roasting Coffee,” which provides all the vocabulary you’ll ever need to impress your friends with your brilliant discourses on “complex roasts.”
Tully’s, Seattle’s second-largest company-owned gourmet coffee roaster and retailer, has quickly and successfully been making inroads in Japan’s crowded kissaten world, courtesy of 31-year-old Kouta Matsuda. Matsuda, a former bank employee, had gone to America for a friend’s wedding. Afterward, stopping by a Starbucks for the first time, he realized how wonderful it would be to bring the hip coffee shop to Japan. Unfortunately, someone else had just signed the franchise rights for Japan, so Matsuda instead introduced Tully’s to Ginza in August 1997.
It was such a hit that he soon put up “open for business” signs in Kamiyacho, Otemachi, Takanawadai, and Roppongi, the newest shop on the block. He must be doing something right: Two more Tully’s are scheduled to open in Tennozu and Hibiya next month.
Tully’s Roppongi, with its close proximity to Roppongi Station, and its fresh, modern and inviting atmosphere is the perfect spot to drop for an afternoon shopping break.
Upon first entering the Roppongi location a cozy feeling washes over you, induced by the pastel walls, designer sandwiches, pastries and cool jazz music — an all-too-familiar coffee shop mixture. Yet, Tully’s manages to stand on its own, with not only its chic interior, but an extensive coffee menu that changes daily (it would take two weeks to sample all the combinations) and the one essential element that separates the fresh ground from the freeze-dried: beans. Or as Tully’s puts it, “Beans, beans and more beans!”
Nursing an aged Sumatra “varietal,” I sat transfixed as operation manager Kaoru Hayashi, a walking coffee bean encyclopedia, waxed rhapsodic about how Tully’s chooses only the highest 1 percent arabica and Colombian beans, which must first meet with the approval of a professional taste tester from America. The many choices, which include Vintage Colombia, Panama Don Bosco and Space Needle Blend (The Seattle Space Needle’s “official” drink) among others, and the detailed sketches and explanations clarifying each coffee’s body, acidity and smokiness, made it seem like a wine-tasting.
Bottom line — good coffee! Though there is a lower caffeine content for some blends, I can attest that the richness and smoothness held up, even after three different brews. If you find yourself in a quandary over whether the “winey” Kenya AA or the more “spicy” Dutchman’s Blend would go better with your English raisin scone, Tully’s of course has more traditional favorites like latte, cappuccino and espresso. Or, if you just feel like having fun, try Tully’s original drink: Swirkle, a sort of frozen coffee slush, or Swirkle Shake — the richer, more full-bodied version which uses another famous product from Seattle: Danken’s Ice Cream. (The ice cream, by the way, was Matsuda’s idea; it is not available at Tully’s America.)
For those who insist on authenticity, Tully’s imports not only its coffees but all of its furniture from Seattle, insuring that customers have a truly “American” experience. Although the coffee menu is the same as Seattle’s, Tully’s Japan does fudge ever so slightly on the food menu, including items such as walnut sweet-bean pastries (guaranteed to get weird stares at the Seattle flagship store), but balances them with grilled veggie wraps and Cobb salads (which get weird stares here). Nothing is over 500 yen, so eat, drink and be merry.
As with most trendy coffee shops these days, the staff must undergo rigorous training, and under heavy interrogation, revealed their deep knowledge of the subtle nuances of each blend and whether they were “bright,” “mild,” “creamy” or “smoky.”
Tully’s Roppongi offers a nonsmoking first floor and a somewhat more crowded, smoke-filled second floor, both with expansive views of Roppongi-dori. So, whether you need to bone up on coffee lore, or just want to spend a leisurely afternoon watching Roppongi girls struggling to balance themselves on their boots, Tully’s is an extremely convenient, enjoyable place to do both.