& Espresso

A shot of the Kenyan Kabingara served in a classic white cup at & Espresso.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.

  • At the back of a car park in Tanaka is a modest, two-storey building, home of & Espresso.
  • The upstairs is also part of the coffee shop, as we shall see.
  • The shaded exterior has a long bench for those wishing to sit outside.
  • Inside, and the counter greets you on the right, till first...
  • ... then the counter proper, complete with four bar stools.
  • There's more seating to the left, opposite the counter, in the shape of two four-person...
  • ... tables, the second of which is tucked under the stairs. Sorry about the mess.
  • The view of the counter from the seating opposite. That's it for downstairs, by the way.
  • If you want more seating, head upstairs by turning left as soon as you enter.
  • The stairs run along the front wall, then turn right...
  • ... before depositing you in this lovely, L-shaped upstairs space, open to the roof.
  • There are two pairs of sofas up here, facing each other across coffee tables.
  • They occupy the whole of the back wall...
  • ... while at the front, over the counter downstairs, there's a L-shaped bar...
  • ... which is the last of the seating.
  • The central section at the front is open, so you see down to the foot of the stairs.
  • A view of the sofas from the other side.
  • The view from the top of the stairs. You can see the till by the door from here.
  • Time to go back down.
  • The view from the top of the stairs. The windows at the front are the only natural light.
  • Back downstairs and the Synesso espresso machine is the heart of the operation.
  • You get a good view of it in action if you sit at the counter.
  • Of course, this was my favourite spot, watching the espresso extract.
  • I particularly like watching espresso extract into glasses since you can see the crema...
  • ... developing as the extraction progresses.
  • Almost done now.
  • There are always two contrasting single-origin espressos on offer.
  • Naturally we had to try them both. The Nicaraguan is in the black cup, matching the menu.
  • A more conventional presentation of the coffee, with the Honduran on the right.
  • I also had what was described on the menu as pudding. Very nice it was too.
  • The espresso changes on a regular basis. Previously it had been a Kenyan & Peruvian.
  • As a parting gift, we got a shot made with the last of the Kenyan Kabingara.
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& 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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