Food & Drink | THE HIGH GROUNDS

Yard Coffee & Craft Chocolate: It's all about the bean

by Claire Williamson

Staff Writer

Many cafes and coffee shops offer sweets and pastries to accompany the drinks on their menus, but owner-barista Shota Nakatani is taking this one step further at Yard Coffee & Craft Chocolate.

As its name suggests, Yard, which opened on April 13 in Osaka’s Tennoji district, doesn’t have just any old desserts on its menu: Along with its single-origin specialty coffee, Yard serves desserts made with bean-to-bar craft chocolate using recipes developed by local patissier Tetsuya Nakatani, of patisserie and chocolaterie Nakatanitei. The matching surnames aren’t a coincidence: Nakatanitei is run by Shota’s father, making Yard, in part, a father-son collaboration.

According to the younger Nakatani, this partnership was a goal that he and his father shared. To that end, after leaving his job as an IT salaryman, he joined the team at the Tokyo-based Glitch Coffee & Roasters in 2017. There, he promptly began what he calls “tongue training”: learning to identify the country of origin, region and processing method (how the coffee bean is removed from the coffee cherry, which converts the raw plant into a product ready for roasting) of beans from blind coffee tastings.

“Without ‘tongue training’ you can’t judge whether the coffee you make has the right flavors,” Nakatani says. When asked if this type of training matters as much for chocolate as it does for coffee, he replies affirmatively, saying that it helps patissiers identify the cacao’s underlying flavors.

Bean meets bean: The coffees and desserts at Yard Coffee are made from carefully selected beans, whether coffee or cocoa.
Bean meets bean: The coffees and desserts at Yard Coffee are made from carefully selected beans, whether coffee or cocoa. | TOMOHIKO SAKATA (TALBOT)

After four months of tongue training, and yet more practice making both hand-drip coffee and espresso, Nakatani worked first at the original Glitch location in Jinbocho, and followed this with stints managing each of its sister shops, Counterpart Coffee Gallery in Shinjuku and Glitch Coffee Brewed @9h in Akasaka. In 2019, he left Glitch to fulfill his dream of collaborating with his father, taking his managerial experience back to Osaka in order to open Yard.

“When you become a manager you have to think of (the shop’s) branding and overall quality, not just yourself,” he says, adding that he conducts coffee cuppings to help train Yard’s new staff.

A significant aspect of Yard’s branding is found in Nakatani’s decision to open Yard in his hometown of Osaka, rather than in Tokyo.

Nakatani consciously opted to use Kansai-based artisans for Yard’s design elements — his preference is for “inconspicuous but good” — such as its pottery (Nota&design), lighting (New Light Pottery) and speakers (sonihouse).

Although Yard’s jet-black exterior sets it apart from the surrounding buildings, the shop’s large windows let in light and open it up to nature. Nakatani selected the shop’s name — “Yard” as opposed to the more cultivated, stiffer “Garden” — to promote his desire to give customers a space with a “relaxing vibe.”

“(I want) to make a shop that will make Osaka proud and raise its profile,” Nakatani says.

And to do that, Nakatani is sticking to his coffee roots. Currently Yard sources its coffee from Glitch, offering a rotating selection of single-origin beans. It’s a selection Shota is personally involved in: This past February, he joined Glitch’s owner, Kiyokazu Suzuki, and two coffee bean importers on a trip to Kenya, where they visited coffee farms and production centers. At one location, the two cupped and evaluated around 200 different coffees, eventually selecting just two to purchase. The beans from this expedition will be available in-store from May or June.

To source the bean-to-bar chocolate and develop the recipes for Yard’s desserts, Nakatani conducted similar chocolate tastings with his father and Nakatanitei’s staff. With bean-to-bar chocolate, the shop controls the entire chocolate production process — from sourcing to roasting, mixing, tempering and more — rather than using chocolate bulk produced by a separate company.

The result is high-quality desserts such as the single-origin Costa Rica chocolate mousse cake with an almond brulee center, creme brulee made with a shot of Brazilian espresso or the classic, rich chocolate brownie. The cacao beans for the chocolate are roasted lightly to bring out their underlying fruit flavors — an excellent match for the coffee roasts.

“Yard’s concept is to deliver original flavor, taste and aftertaste,” Nakatani says. “All three have to flow together for something to be truly delicious.

“More than decoration, taste is what’s important,” he says.

Chausuyamacho 1-3, Tennoji-ku, Osaka 543-0063; 06-6776-8166; yardosaka.com; open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., closed Tue., first & third Wed.; nearest station Tennoji; nonsmoking; English menu; some English spoken

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