Greetings from Japan, where I’m back in the mountains in the Nagano Prefecture, escaping the heat and humidity for a week before returning to Tokyo for two weeks of meetings! Since I’m here, I thought it was high time that I wrote up some of the Coffee Spots that my friend Christopher took me to when I was last in Nagano, in October last year, starting with Hirano Coffee.
Hirano isn’t that easy to find, tucked away in the back streets just south of the Zenkō-ji Temple, but it’s worth seeking out. A coffee shop/roastery, it occupies both floors of a two-storey house which looks and feels (to me at least) like a small, traditional Japanese dwelling, reminding me of & Espresso and Nem Coffee & Espresso. You can sit downstairs with the counter and roaster for company, or in the glorious upstairs.
All the coffee is roasted on the 5kg Fuji Royal behind the counter, and there’s a choice of five single-origins and five blends, plus a small selection of cakes and toast if you’re hungry. If you’re looking for espresso though, you’ve come to the wrong place, since Hirano only serves pour-over using a traditional cloth filter or V60.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Hirano Coffee’s a relative newcomer to Nagano, only opening in 2016. Tucked away down a small alley about 30 minutes’ walk north of Nagano Station, I defy anyone to find it without either a map or local guide. It’s not somewhere you’d accidentally wander by and even its residential appearance makes you wonder if you’ve come to the wrong place.
You enter on the left, the door sheltering under a porch. There’s space here for your shoes if you want to take them off, while two sets of steps lead into Hirano proper. The ones on the left head upstairs, while directly ahead of you, two broad steps lead up to the counter, which faces you at the top. This occupies the left-hand side of the space, while to the right there’s a magnificent communal table which seats seven, where you feel as if you are in someone’s dining room. Alternatively, a screened-in porch at the front has a single, round table.
There’s more seating upstairs in a series of gorgeous, interconnecting, open rooms, although be warned: the stairs are quite steep! At the top, a room to the right has large windows overlooking front of shop. There are two tables at the front, chairs facing the windows, and another four-person rectangular table in the back, right-hand corner. Ahead of you, a pair of square, two-person tables stand under the windows along the left-hand side, one with armchairs, the other with normal chairs. There’s also a long thin room at the back on the right-had side, a table running along the back wall with a couple of well-spaced chairs.
The interior is lovely, upstairs and down. Although the house is new, it’s built in an older style (at least according to my western eyes) with wooden-framed, plaster walls. While I was there, quiet jazz filled the place, only adding to the atmosphere.
But what about the coffee? This is all roasted on a 5kg Fuji Royal which, off to the left, takes up about half the space behind the counter, clearly visible to all. You order at the counter, where you’ll find a glass display case, full of coffee kit, facing the door, with the menus and till (cash only) on top. The right-hand side of the counter, facing the communal table, is where the magic happens, the pour-over being made in a style reminiscent of what I saw at the old-style Kissaten such as Café de L’Ambre and Chatei Hatou.
There’s a big kettle on hot plate behind the counter which is used to constantly top up a smaller pouring kettle. All the coffee is prepared using either a traditional cloth filter or a V60. Christopher and I both had V60s, so I can’t say if the technique was different for the cloth filter, but for the V60, there was a first pour to allow the coffee to bloom, followed by two main pours. The coffee was filtered into a small saucepan and topped up with hot water when done, before being put on a hot plate to reheat slightly before serving. It’s a wonderful ritual to watch, but it does mean that the service is very relaxed, so don’t come here if you’re in a hurry!
There are five blends and five single-origins to choose from, arranged in order from light-roast (top) to dark-roast (bottom). I thought about the Ethiopian single-origin, but knowing that I’d like it, I challenged myself with a medium-dark roast Guatemalan, while Christopher had the darkest blend, the French roast. My coffee was very good, rich and sweet, but, if I’m honest, a little dark for my tastes. I paired it with a slice of an amazing, rich, creamy cheesecake which more than offset the coffee’s slightly dark nature!
|981 NAGANO • 380-0864 • JAPAN|
|www.facebook.com/hiranocoffeenagano||+81 (0) 50-3699-7897|
|Monday||10:00 – 18:00||Roaster||Hirano (pour-over only)|
|Tuesday||CLOSED||Seating||Tables, Table (outside)|
|Thursday||10:00 – 18:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||10:00 – 18:00||Payment||Cash Only|
|Saturday||10:00 – 18:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||10:00 – 18:00||Power||Yes|
|Chain||No||Visits||22nd October 2018|
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