Tokyo Food-Otaku: The Artisan. Bear Pond Espresso.

Artisan: ˈɑːtɪzan,ɑːtɪˈzan/: A worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.

If i was asked to describe my experience with Katsuyuki Tanaka-san, the man behind the coffee machine, that would be it. An artist.

Much has been said and written about Tanaka-san that it would really be pointless to repeat them once again here, for those still curious, a click out to Vimeo might offer some insight.

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Again, so much has been said, and so much has been written that i found myself, a non-coffee drinker, arriving way too early in the trendy (maybe hipster) district of Shimokitazawa where Bear Pond resides, eager to discover what many claim to be the best coffee ever.

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Unfortunately, having a habit of not wasting time sleeping in when overseas, i found myself staring at a closed cafe. No matter, a quick but fantastic breakfast down the street solved everything. As they always do.

I have read about some foreign visitors’ experiences at Tanaka-san’s cafe being less than desirable, with his strict no photography signs and no-nonsense perfectionist approach to the espresso making process. And with some slightly trepidation and hesitation when making my first order, scenes of Seinfeld’s soup nazi did flash before my eyes. I settled for the Dirty, a strange choice i’d agree considering it was a somewhat cold winter morning.

My coffee came and as i took a sip the wonderfully concocted blend with hints of chocolate and very little bitter aftertaste, a couple came in with their so very friendly Golden Retriever. Tanaka-san and his wife’s faces lit up and engaged in much friendly banter with them and those initial ideas of Mr Bear Pond being an unfriendly or authoritarian figure went straight out the door as quickly as the Goldie came in.

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I sat back and continued nursing my little glass of magic and ordered a second drink, a winter special, to just continue the experience. As i finished off my second cup of coffee and prepared to make my exit, i politely asked if i could take a picture. Surprisingly, he was okay with it. But only pictures of the coffee, not of the cafe, not of him. His reasons? He doesn’t’ think of himself as a celebrity and to him, it doesn’t make much sense to take a picture with someone who doesn’t know him.

Interestingly, our conversation extended further from this point on, his history, his journey and his path to what led him on to the birth of Bear Pond. His thoughts on the current cafe situation in Tokyo as well as his philosophies, ideologies and thoughts behind his life, his cafe, his methods and his craft. Elements of which most of us likely keep apart, but to Tanaka-san, they are one and not to be set apart.

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His cafe and his espresso is (his) life, it is his craft and his art. His canvas is the cup, his paintbrush is his La Marzocca machine and his medium is coffee. When you talk to him and try to understand the man behind the machine, you are his captive audience and like many art forms, there is no standard interpretation, everyone is to have their own unique experience and I’d like to think that is what Bear Pond Espresso is.

On a personal note, i don’t know why he was able to open up to a tourist like me, perhaps our similar background in design and advertising allowed us to have a unique understanding. Or maybe, he was just in a really really good mood. As i made my goodbyes, he smiled and mentioned that now, we can take a picture together. I questioned his earlier rule of not taking pictures with people, with him informing me that he does not take pictures with people he doesn’t know, but now that we’ve had a conversation, we are no longer strangers at this point.

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I promised my new friend that i’ll be back again next year.

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