Yusuke Kabuki is a Renaissance man of coffee and cocoa. He constructed this atelier-cafe inside an old building. He wrote a book about chocolate; its history, how to make it. He is enthusiastic and artistic. Temperature and timing is everything, he says.
He began roasting coffee after graduating from high school, about 13 years ago. He roasted for restaurants and other buyers. They’re similar, he says; coffee and chocolate. So I decided to combine them. He puts three roasted cocoa beans down in front of you to shell and eat. They’re crunchy.
The Kabuki cafe is hidden in plain sight. The flat brown door on the street near the Torigoe shrine is inviting if you’re on his wavelength and know about it, or happen to notice, yet it avoids unwelcome attention. An unmindful customer would walk straight past.
Inside is soft and still. Almost austere. Music plays. There is a glint of chrome from the vintage Fuji coffee roaster at the back. A long solid bar counter stretches away from the door under hanging bronze lampshades. A tray of coffee beans Kabuki is sorting lies by the muslin-covered window.
He makes you a cup. It’s complex and rich through the cloth filter (the cloth allows oil to pass, unlike paper). The menu lists many different origins and blends. All roasted in the store. He debuts his chocolate, which he makes next door from the beans, later next week. It includes dark, milk and white, and uses spices, citrus and rum. There’s also whisky and sake.
Until last year Kabuki worked for confectionery company Lotte for eight years. He was a recipe chief for chocolates including the iconic Ghana line. He traveled many times to Ghana, and to Madagascar. He came to know the growers. Lately he goes to Indonesia and Vietnam, and meets farmers there too. African beans are good, he says, but I’d like to source from our Asian neighbourhood.
He is a proud son of Fukushima prefecture. He points out many craftspeople from the north come to Asakusa and other parts of Taito-ku. Because Ueno is the gateway to Tohoku, he says.
His parents ran a store they called Kabuki Shoten. Kabuki is the family name. It’s written with the characters for turnip and tree. It’s very unusual. I don’t know where our name comes from, he says. I’ve never met another Kabuki.
Family lines and the idea of continuity are frequent topics among craftspeople. Kabuki’s parents’ store was actually a liquor shop, but with the cafe and atelier he has tagged with the same name, he feels he’s extending a tradition.