All we could do, is laugh. As we rush out of my favorite fish on sticks place* to hail a cab, the rain is coming down mean and hard. The sidewalks are overfilling with steep puddles and I swear I see Noah’s Arc with elephants and giraffes lined up two-by-two heading our way.
“Should I call an Uber?” he asks. “This is Tokyo. Ubers are unnecessary.” I say. He looks back at me a bit skeptical and just when he was about to whip out his phone I spy an empty cab I successfully flag down. “See?” I say and he smiles, holds the umbrella up near the door as I rush in. Even with him shielding the rain with our shared umbrella, the downpour is so aggressive I’m immediately drenched. He climbs in after me making sound effects. He is wetter than I. We look at each other and laugh. The cab driver laughs — first at his gibberish, then with us as I say, “only thing left to do is laugh.”
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!
Chatei Hato Drop this into Google Maps↓ 東京都渋谷区渋谷1-15-19
Open daily from 11 am – 11 pm (last order is at 11 pm)
No website, no English menu
A glimpse of Japanese craftsmanship, furniture edition.
My heart is still fluttering. Goose bumps have yet to cease. I am flying high, so high, off the scent of wood. All kinds of wood. I can vividly hear the sanding, the hum of the chain saw. I want to bottle the saw dust and carry the wood chips in my pockets. I don’t want these sensations to end. This is Japanese craftsmanship at its finest.