Food & Drink | THE HIGH GROUNDS

Zen and the delicate art of demitasse coffee

by James Hadfield

Special To The Japan Times

Shingo Naganuma isn’t exaggerating when he compares the atmosphere of his coffee shop, Nejimakigumo, to a temple. Open the menu here and you’ll find a list of rules, ranging from prohibitions (no smoking, no pets) to a requirement that laptop users buy extra drinks if they plan on occupying one of the cafe’s dozen seats for more than an hour.

You don’t have to take a vow of silence to fit in here, but you may want to turn your conversation down a few notches, at least.

“If you want to enjoy quality time by yourself, and really appreciate coffee, there are lots of things that can get in the way,” Naganuma says. “If the shop was bigger, I wouldn’t need all these rules.”

This may all strike some people as a bit fussy, but stick with it — if you can abide by the strictures, this hushed, hallowed cafe is a charmer. Naganuma explains that he’s trying to encourage an unspoken rapport between his customers. “Like Jedis,” he says, referring to the enlightened heroes of the “Star Wars” franchise.

A veteran of Tokyo roasters Mikado Coffee, where he earned his Coffee Meister certification, Naganuma opened the first branch of Nejimakigumo in 2006 in Ome, on the far-western reaches of Tokyo. He moved the action to Kokubunji in 2012, though he still returns to the original Ome location to roast his beans, as well as to host a weekly session for heavy-duty java fiends.

At the Kokubunji cafe, Naganuma uses a variety of methods — drip, siphon, espresso, cold brew, French press — and offers some distinctive originals, including a sublime cafe latte spiked with roasted hōjicha tea. Drinks are served in the squat soba-choko cups typically used when eating buckwheat noodles.

“They’re perfect for the kind of coffee I make,” he says. “I’m trying to make coffee with the same sensibility as dashi or miso soup.”

Although he’s enthusiastic about the current “third wave coffee” boom spearheaded by Blue Bottle Coffee, Naganuma retains a soft spot for the traditions (and darker roasts) of Japan’s kissaten coffee houses. For his Wednesday-only sessions in Ome, he roasts the beans by hand, which he says gives them a flavor profile akin to the smokiness of Islay whisky.

Those who make the trip to Ome can sample what must be one of the most potent coffees in the capital. Naganuma uses over 80 grams of beans — about 10 times more than you’d usually require — with a “Nel drip” flannel filter to prepare a single, 30-ml demitasse coffee. If you want to try one, you’ll have to reserve at least a day in advance, and not without good reason.

“It takes me about half an hour to make one cup,” he says.

Nejimakigumo is located at 104 Yoshino Bldg., 2-18-16 Motomachi, Kokubunji-shi, Tokyo; 0428-85-9228; open 2 p.m.-10 p.m.; closed Wed.; nearest station Kokubunji. The Ome branch is located at 326-1 Kamicho, Ome-shi; open Wed. only 1 p.m.-8 p.m. (reservation only) and 10 p.m.-midnight; nearest station Ome. For more information, visit nejimakigumo.bitter.jp.