You may think you’re in the wrong place, that it’s members-only, that the customers at the broad black counter under the tar-stained lampshades only stopped talking when you opened the door. The fact is, at Cafe de Naniwaya, most of the time, it is silent. People don’t break the spell.
Coffee is almost the only thing on the menu. A friend in Sydney says, It sounds about as far removed from coffee here as it’s possible to get. Certainly the master is virtually the antithesis, the polar opposite, of your self-styled, bearded barista-hero, pumping his La Marzocco in some designer wood shack.
He moves in a lightning quick sort of dance, his arms flashing, snatching and replacing one jar after the other…
Naniwaya is slow-drip. It takes about 5 minutes per cup. You’ve never seen such intense concentration from a man making a cup of coffee. He is from Osaka, hence the Naniwa name. He doesn’t offer to tell you his own name. He has roasted and dripped coffee for about 10 years at this former izakaya on an Asakusa corner. He says people around here remind him of Osaka, they tend to be warm and direct.
In one corner of the counter stands the roasting apparatus, a perforated drum with a handle, cocked at an angle above a gas hob. Some mornings he starts roasting at 7am. He keeps all his beans separate: African, South American, Indonesian.
When you order a coffee, he mixes your blend on the spot; whisks each jar from the shelf, measures out the beans, tips them into the grinder. He moves in a lightning quick sort of dance, his arms flashing, snatching and replacing one bottle after the other. It comes from his previous career as a barman.
He says, Most cafes keep their house beans mixed, so the flavours mix too, and I don’t want that. I want to keep their qualities separate until you drink them in one cup.
He insists he’s not a coffee maniac. I just fell into doing this, he says. It could have been anything. But I used to like to drink, and that’s not so healthy for a bar job.
He likes televised sports. This week poses a dilemma. Both the NBA finals and Wimbledon are on live, after he closes up at 11pm. So, sometimes, he is tired.
A vintage porcelain figurine on the counter was a present from a customer. A young boy strains to pull a heavy rickshaw, carrying a grinning tanuki racoon dog. I like his face, says the master. It’s a bit pissed-off, as if the tanuki has tricked him into hauling him around. A pinch of Osaka humour behind the stillness of Naniwaya.