So far it’s been Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo on the Coffee Spot, but yesterday I escaped the heat of the city (as an aside, it’s currently Japan’s hottest ever heatwave, with Tokyo reaching a sweltering 38⁰C) for the relatively cool (~30⁰C) of the mountains of eastern Nagano Prefecture, just under a 1½ hour ride on the bullet train northwest of the capital. Here I met up with Christopher, an American who has lived in the area for around 30 years.
The plan was to go hiking in the mountains, but along the way, Christopher took me to the delightful & Espresso in Tomi, an area best known as the home of Maruyama Coffee, which has its roastery in nearby Komoro. Midway between Ueda and Karuizawa, & Espresso is easy enough to get to by local train, being a few minutes’ from Tanaka station.
& Espresso is the brainchild of owner and head barista, Harasawa Masanao. Opening earlier this year, it’s in a converted rice storehouse at the rear of a small parking lot, so it’s easy enough to miss. The coffee is from Kagoshima’s Voila, with a choice of two single origins available on espresso, either black, or in a variety of milk-based options.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
& Espresso occupies a beautiful, but simple, two-storey building at the back of a small, narrow parking lot (the parking lot is effectively the width of the building) which is handy if you are arriving by car (Christopher, my tour-guide for the day, was driving). There’s not much to the building, just a single, central door, set back behind half-height curtains, and a bench to the left, in the shade of the over-hanging roof. Meanwhile, upstairs, there’s a small, central window, the building’s pristine white-washed walls in contrast to the black roof-tiles.
Inside, there’s a single room both upstairs and down. Although they are very different spaces, it instantly reminded me of Tokyo’s Nem Coffee & Espresso in its simplicity and elegance. Downstairs, to the right of the door, is a small kiosk-like area which houses the till, while beyond that, running all the way to the back of the store, is the counter, a lovely wooden affair, with four bar-stools for seating. Opposite this, against the left-hand wall, are a pair of four-person tables with broad, comfortable stools. There is one in the corner at the back, while the other is at the front, tucked under the stairs.
These start immediately to the left of the door, running up the front wall and then along half of the back wall. Upstairs is an L-shaped seating area, open at the front (above the door and staircase). Two pairs of sofas, each pair facing each other across a coffee table, line the back wall, while at the front on the right is an L-shaped bar that can seat four, again on stools.
The only light comes from a window in the top half of the door and the smaller, square upstairs window, so the lighting in the interior, even with numerous lamps, is subdued, a real contrast if it’s bright outside. However, it’s very much in keeping with & Espresso’s atmosphere, where wood mixes with the whitewashed walls.
When it comes to the coffee, just be aware that the menu is entirely in Japanese, save for the names of the single origins. I had my translator (Christopher) with me, so had no issues, but without him, I would not have made head nor tail of the menu. On the other hand, it’s a coffee shop, so you can’t go too far wrong, particularly if you stick to espresso. There’s also a selection of homemade cakes and sweet things, plus a meat-based curry with rice for lunch if you are hungry.
We tried the espresso, each having a single shot of the two single origins. These are chosen to offer a contrast, with the Nicaragua Buenos Aires being the sharper of the two. While it was enjoyable, my clear favourite was the Honduras Montecillo, a wonderfully smooth and sweet espresso. I paired my coffee with a custard pudding (think crème caramel in texture) while Christopher had a gorgeous hot blueberry muffin, packed with fruit and with a melt-in-the-mouth texture.
We (by which I mean Christopher) got chatting with Harasawa Masanao, the owner, who runs the shop by himself (a rare example, I found, of a Japanese coffee shop with only a single member of staff) and makes all the food as well. As a special treat, he brought out the previous espresso, a Kenyan Kabingara, and pulled us both a shot with the last of the beans. This was very different again, somewhere between the Nicaragua and Honduras in terms of acidity, but wonderfully smooth. And with that, we were on our way, the cooler climes of the mountains calling us away.
|187-1 TANAKA • TOMI-SHI • NAGANO-KEN • 389-0516 • JAPAN|
|www.facebook.com/andespresso||+81 (0) 268-55-7416|
|Monday||07:00 – 18:00||Roaster||Voila (espresso only)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 18:00||Seating||Tables, Sofas, Bench (outside)|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 18:00||Food||Cake, Lunch|
|Thursday||07:00 – 18:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||07:00 – 18:00||Cards||Cash Only|
|Saturday||07:00 – 18:00||Wifi||Wifi (with code)|
|Sunday||07:00 – 18:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||No||Visits||24th July 2018|
Note that & Espresso tends to be closed for several days each month. You can find the specific days on & Espresso’s Facebook page, where you’ll also find details of the current coffee offerings.
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