Food & Drink

Japan's top barista ready to defend title


A 27-year-old woman crowned as Japan’s best drip coffee barista is preparing to defend her title against the country’s top brew makers.

Yuka Takahashi, who beat all comers at last year’s Japan Hand Drip Championship, will participate in a preliminary round of the 2016 tournament in Tokyo on Thursday.

In the competition, contestants select one type of bean and a brewing tool and are given 10 minutes to prepare the coffee.

Judges assess flavor and presentation, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of Japan, which runs the competition.

Takahashi, manager of coffee shop Un Cafe Sucre, located near Tokyo Skytree in Sumida Ward, recalls last year’s runner-up, a man from Fukuoka Prefecture, sobbing at the end of the competition.

The barista, who describes herself as “earnest and stubborn,” said his tears made her realize the value of winning the championship.

But Takahashi’s road to victory wasn’t smooth either. In her challenge for the 2014 competition, she poured the wrong amount of hot water into a cup and finished unplaced. She has since practiced to avoid repeating the mistake.

Takahashi said the key to making truly tasty coffee is “observing beans and grounds carefully” and “blowing up grounds like you make a nice puffy muffin when pouring hot water into a paper filter.”

At Un Cafe Sucre, Takahashi procures beans mainly from the shop’s roasting factory in Karuizawa, a resort town in Nagano Prefecture.

“Many people around me, including customers, bean-makers, and pot-makers, are cheering . . . for me,” Takahashi said.

Takahashi was hired by the cafe after visiting Tokyo for a job interview at the time of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami and being unable to immediately return home to Chiba Prefecture.

“The shop probably decided to hire me out of pity,” she said jokingly.

Up to 18 finalists will participate in the final match scheduled for July 24.

In line with the nationwide state of emergency declared on April 16, the government is strongly requesting that residents stay at home whenever possible and refrain from visiting bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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