The man in a tie and slightly wrinkled, baggy white shirt swiftly chooses three old fashioned porcelain cups with matching saucers out of hundreds, lined up on a wooden cabinet built into the back wall. He picks each cup up, lifting them above his head towards the light, thoroughly examines them, then swipes each cup with a crisp white cotton towel. He does the same to the matching saucers. Lift up towards the light. Examine. Wipe down.
My friend and I sitting side by side at the bar looked at each other and exchanged a silent: wtf. Who is he? And what is this place?!
Chatei Hato is an extremely old school coffee shop located in an alley on the non-busy side of Shibuya. (Non-busy side = opposite from the famous Shibuya crossing.) The interior seems to be in tact from when it was built over 25 years ego.
The master (masutā, as we pronounce in Japanese) is the neck tied gentleman responsible for the pours. Each cup of coffee takes about 15 – 20 minutes and boy, is this place something else.
I first visited back in July and failed to write about it until now. A chef friend and I were meeting Namae-san (of L’Effervescence) who suggested three cafes. He texted verbatim: “Fuglen Tokyo — a cozy place to sit and talk. The Roastery — a nice place to sit. Closer to Harajuku. Chatei Hato will be an experience. James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, says this is the original idea of third wave coffee.”
Which is how we ended up here.
Third wave coffee, by the way, is the high-end coffee movement in which the cafe invests in curated high quality, specialty beans which are ground to order. Then there is special care put into the brew, pour, temperature, etc.
We arrived right at opening and sat at the massive wood bar and was immediately greeted by this ↓
A handwritten menu which changes daily. My chef friend chose the Brazilian blend I believe and Namae-san asked the masutā for a coffee, masutā’s choice that is low in acidity — or sanmi 酸味 — as we say in Japanese. I stopped drinking coffee in January but I couldn’t sit in this coffee shop, right in front of the masutā and not order coffee. So I chose what Namae-san was having.
As soon as we placed our coffee orders, it was like the curtains drew up in a theater and the three of us sat frozen in awe, as we silently watched the masutā, this coffee magician, go to work. I never knew such a simple act as scooping and grinding coffee beans then pouring a cup of coffee could be so artistic.
And the level of care and detail going into each and every cup he pours is astounding. He even pours hot water into a coffee cup, pours the hot water into the saucers so they are the same temperature as the cup.
They serve lattes, cafe au laits, and teas and other beverages. I don’t know about you but as a patron, I would be extremely uneasy to order anything but a straight cup of black coffee. Which is why I broke my no coffee streak and ended up drinking one cup (which had me wired for a while afterwards).
This place is definitely a Japan only experience and a must go for all coffee lovers!
Drop this into Google Maps↓
Open daily from 11 am – 11 pm (last order is at 11 pm)
No website, no English menu