Rainy afternoons, used bookstores and slow brew cuppas: How Glitch Coffee became my most recommended café in Tokyo

·6-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

TOKYO, May 26 — Coffee is meant for pouring, when it pours.

We enter the unassuming Tokyo café on a rainy day, glad to escape the weather. We leave behind us the dusty bookstores, crammed floor to ceiling with old and used books. We leave behind the ageing noodle shops and the shower-slicked streets of Jimbocho.

Here at Glitch Coffee & Roasters is an entire world hidden away yet very much part of the neighbourhood, which its owner, 2014 Japan AeroPress Champion Kiyokazu Suzuki, has chosen.

This space isn’t meant to be busy or fashionable; quite the opposite. Suzuki chose it for its serenity and sense of community. As other customers walk in, their ready, friendly smiles tell us they are regulars.

We were first introduced to Glitch Coffee by Masahiro Aoki, a Japanese barista trainer and coffee consultant who has been grooming baristas in Malaysia since 2011 as well as judging at various Malaysia Barista Championships.

When Masa-san, who now heads Artelier Coffee in both Pavilion Bukit Bintang and Pavilion Bukit Jalil, recommends a coffee shop or coffee roaster, one would be wise to listen.

After all, his illustrious protégés include Rain Lee of KITA Coffee, the newly crowned Malaysia Barista Champion 2022, and Penang-born multi-hyphenate Ang Yeesiang (barista, roaster and owner of Sweet Blossom Coffee Roasters in Johor Baru).

This is a man who knows his coffee.

So it was Masa-san’s advice that we recalled when the weather took a turn for the worse while we were dilly-dallying in our hotel room in Kabukicho, not ready to start the day.

As far as we are concerned, the storm arrives out of the blue. Truth is, we haven’t been paying attention; we had been stuck to our screens, our eyes mesmerised by the barely-there flicker. Sometimes, even as tourists, as self-appointed flâneurs.

This is the sort of rain that goes on for hours.

This, we tell ourselves, would be a good time for a nap, maybe a deeper sleep, a sort of hibernation from hard thinking or hard work.

But the rain is a beautiful thing; it can be, yes. Why waste the opportunity to observe it in all its natural splendour? There will be plenty of time for mindless, infinity scrolling later; now is the time for more mindful strolling instead.

So we drag ourselves out of our hotel in search of some coffee. Not the stuff that comes from pushing a button at a konbini. We want real coffee, the kind a barista takes the time to brew. Slow drip. Slow coffee.

In Masa-san we trust.

This is why we find ourselves in the used bookstore haven of Jimbocho, its streets shiny with rain. Umbrellas at the zebra crossing, many of them of the transparent variety that we always associate with the Japanese capital.

We gratefully duck into the café. The baristas at Glitch Coffee all appear to have hats or gleaming handlebar moustaches. For a moment, we consider the terrifying notion of having stepped foot into a hipster den.

Ah, but they also have friendly, open smiles. We beam in return.

Opened in 2015, Glitch Coffee has that ambience of casual camaraderie. The open counter where we observe our baristas work their magic at the pour-over station. The take-out window that is so retro. The unobtrusive music that never reduces to the level of a commercial café soundtrack.

As they make our coffee, fastidious in their craft and care, I read a little William Blake.

If only we could as Blake did, he who glimpsed a world, a universe, in a grain of sand, in a wild flower, and he who held infinity in the palm of his hand. Or perhaps only sought to.

I certainly have endured 'eternity in an hour” while waiting in line at the post office. Conversely, an eternity in every sip, when the coffee is sublime, that’s no chore at all.

To see everything in an instance, and hold it only for as long as that.

Our coffee is black, tea-like and light in body, yet deepens in flavour as we sip slowly, allowing it to cool. Single origin beans rather than blends.

One cup is an Ethiopia Nigusse Gemeda, the natural process drawing out the clear notes of winey grapes and blueberries. A smooth finish, not unlike a fine sherry. The other cup is a Kenya Chorongi AA. Fully washed, this conjures the mellow acidity of dried tomatoes on our taste buds, with a long-lasting aftertaste.

Pour-over coffee always goes well with some pastries, preferably not too sweet. An almond croissant and a charcoal bagel help to sate our appetites as we wait out the rain. We are in no hurry.

These are the tiny joys in life: drawing in a sketchbook; journaling, writing in measured, unhurried sentences; and the soft chew of a bagel.

Glitch Coffee has its own in-house roasting machine and specialises in lighter roasts. The 5 kilogram Probat Roaster stands quiet while we are here but we learn it’s part of a shared roaster project that enables other cafés to roast their own beans.

It’s all about experimenting and sharing the results and learning. Hence the name 'Glitch” - it is the small glitches that arise in the process of roasting beans and brewing coffee that create opportunities for new discoveries.

We understand the concept; after all, isn’t coming here a discovery for us too? And a very happy one at that.

Conversing with one of the baristas, we learn that the Jimbocho café is their flagship shop. They have other branches in Osaka and Nagoya. Perhaps we could drop by in the future? We would love to, we promise.

What’s more, now we have the privilege of paying it forward.

What was once Masa-san’s recommendation to us is now my recommendation to other friends, even my Japanese friends (especially Tokyoites who have yet to explore their own city as thoroughly as we have; Ausländers, as Germans call foreigners, can be far more curious and indefatigable).

Perhaps this is the story of how Glitch Coffee became my most recommended café in Tokyo.

But if so, it is also the story of rainy afternoons that don't have to dampen our spirits. If anything, we learn there is no good or bad time to discover new places to visit and to uncover new things about ourselves and others along the way.

Life is like a cup of coffee, after all. Coffee is meant for pouring, when it pours, but also for sharing, over slow, mindful sips, with big, beaming smiles all around.

For more slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.

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