A crowd of men and women are watching the hands of one man. To the left of the man, there is a cotton bag containing ground coffee beans; to his right, a kettle. He pours a little hot water at a time from the kettle into the bag. Reddish-brown drops fall little by little into the pitcher below. The man is Yuuki Kadowaki, the owner of Coffea, a specialist coffee shop in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture. He is a master of the flannel drip method of making coffee with cotton bags. Today (30th November, 2014), an event at which Mr. Kadowaki is the speaker is being held: Daily handiwork ? making coffee with a flannel drip. Coffee lovers gathered at OVE Minami-Aoyama to check out the essence of flannel drips with their eyes and their taste buds.
“Flannel drips extract the delicious taste of the coffee and work in order to avoid adding the troublesome froth to the extracted liquid.”
“You don’t pour the water. You lay it on top of the coffee. Each grain of ground coffee soaks up the water - you are assisting this process.”
“Coffee should be made while standing. You lay the water on top of the ground coffee with your body as if it is hung on a spring, competing with gravity.”
“Once the ground coffee has retained the water, foam floats on the top. This foam is the froth. You must make sure that this does not get into the extracted liquid.”
Mr. Kadowaki gives unstinting glimpses of his technique during his speech. When the extraction is finally complete, the coffee is poured into cups and distributed to the participants. “Put a little coffee on a spoon and drip it into the middle. Uncloudy coffee drips should form balls and run across the surface,” says Mr. Kadowaki. The drips actually do run across the surface of the coffee like skaters. The liquid is dark but reddish and clear at the same time. When you put it to your mouth… what delicious coffee! No, rather, it is more appropriate to say, “So this is what coffee tastes like!” The surprise on the faces of the participants shows that this is a coffee experience with impact for everyone. One woman states her opinion with a grin, “the flavor stays in your mouth for a long time.”
What is the essence of this flannel drip that makes such wonderful coffee? After the event we had an in-depth conversation with Mr. Kadowaki.
The flannel drip was invented in 1800 in France. So, how did people make coffee before that?
“In the beginning, there was no concept of filtering coffee - it was stewed. However, this meant that the coffee grounds were mixed with the liquid so this method of filtering using a cloth bag hung over a container was developed after considering how to separate the liquid and the grounds. This way, the grounds did not get into the liquid. However, once the container started to fill up, the bag would be submerged in the liquid and therefore, the unwanted froth would get mixed in with the extracted liquid.”
Consequently, by hanging the bag at a height where it would not come into contact with the liquid, it was possible not only to separate the grounds and the liquid but also to separate the froth from the liquid as well. Flannel drips are different from the paper drips that we are used to seeing every day and there is great significance in the fact that these filter bags are made of cloth.
“As you saw at the event, the flannel drips are made of cloth so when the ground beans have absorbed as much water as they possibly can, the bag swells, drawing a parabola.
It is precisely for this reason that the first coffee extract (explained below) gradually starts to drip and then there is a change to slightly paler liquid that smoothly falls fluently. In the paper drip method, the paper filter is fixed around the edges so the dripping is uniform from start to finish...drip...drip...drip. In other words, there is a big difference in the amount of time the hot water has rested and the change in temperature between the flannel drip and the paper drip in the “work area” where the actual extraction takes place. The paper drip was originally invented to avoid the work of cleaning the cloth bag after use so even if we work hard to make something close to the flannel drip, it will not be equal to it.”
The extract that first drips out of the flannel drip is a liquid in which the flavor of the coffee is concentrated and, according to Mr. Kadowaki, the flavor of coffee is in this extract. The reason why the bag gradually swells and the drips fall smoothly is because it is a pale orange liquid that has no flavor. However, the flavor would be too strong if you stopped with just the extract, and this is not appropriate for coffee that you would drink a few times a day. Consequently, in order to adjust the flavor of the extract to the best level, you also let the liquid that smoothly falls fluently drip through.
However, you must never let the foam on the surface of the liquid, in other words, the froth drip through to the coffee you are going to drink. Even when you are controlling the concentration of the extract, you must not let the froth go through. In order to do this you will need technique, in other words, laying the water on top of the grounds and competing with gravity as Mr. Kadowaki mentioned during the event. In short, you must not let the froth drip down into the extract coffee.
“These are the rules of thumb. It feels strange saying it myself but I think that this is true for all craftsmen no matter what kind of work they do. You lay the water on the ground coffee using your imagination to see what is going on inside the bag. It is the same thing with roasting coffee beans. You need to use your imagination because you can’t see inside the roaster. Hints are the noise of the roaster or the aroma of the smoke that are passed on or that you pick up in your everyday work.”
We already mentioned about how delicious the coffee that Mr. Kadowaki roasts by hand and extracts correctly is above. At the event, we also had the chance to taste the extract. One spoonful contained tremendous flavor and the surprise of the participants heightened even further.
“In short, there is no bitterness. This is not due entirely to the method of extraction; it also depends on the roasting. Of course, even if you are a professional, perfection is not possible. However, if you work towards getting as close as you can to perfection, you will get a clear flavor with no bitterness. This is notwithstanding whether there is bitterness or not and does not depend on the strength of acidity either.”
“Incidentally, there is a difference between acidity and sourness. The acidity that everyone thinks of when they drink ordinary coffee is actually sourness. It is the acidity that should be savored but there is no need to taste sourness. Almost all coffee beans are more acidic than bitter and if there is no acidity, they are not a refined product. This acidity is created in the roasting process. If fresh beans are roasted, the sourness of the beans themselves transforms into acidity at a certain point. In other words, roasting should be the act that brings out the acidity. However, if you don’t go that far, the coffee will be sour. Understandably, there are cases in which it becomes sour because the beans are old and have oxidized and cases in which it becomes sour because the temperature of the water used to drip through the coffee is too low but professionals can tell the cause of the sourness as soon as they drink the coffee.”
Listening to Mr. Kadowaki’s detailed and logical explanation, I feel like the resolution of the eyes I use to see coffee has been sharpened. This must be the knowledge of an expert. However, Mr. Kadowaki claims that all his knowledge comes from his teacher. The expert teacher looked up to by the expert is the old owner of Mocha, a famous shop in Tokyo’s Kichijoji which roasted its own coffee and used flannel drips, Yukitoshi Shimegi. Mr. Kadowaki’s encounter with Mr. Shimegi led him down his current path.
Mr. Kadowaki studied in Tokyo and during those years he became interested in coffee, going into every coffee shop he saw with a sign that said home-roasted coffee but each time he felt betrayed. He finally came across Mocha in Kichijoji. Yukitoshi Shimegi, the owner, was a famous coffee expert who has been called the God of Coffee in the past. After he graduated, Mr. Kadowaki started working at Mocha. He then worked with Mr. Shimegi, as a student who followed his teacher until his death in 2007. Nowadays, Mr. Kadowaki almost never goes to Kichijoji. This is because it is too hard to go back now that Mocha no longer exists. The existence of Mocha and Mr. Shimegi is almost everything to Mr. Kadowaki, the craftsman.
“I am not a quick learner so I made a lot of mistakes and was always in trouble. Despite this, Mr. Shimegi kept a close eye on me and I heard later that he said that I was someone to whom he could say anything… but I think it was just the fact that I was so earnest that came across.
Just after I started working at Mocha, the shop was closed and we were inside talking when a shadow appeared at the door. Mr. Shimegi said, “We’re closed” and put his head round the door to see who it was only to find that it was a very important person in the world of coffee. I was surprised and asked him if it was OK and he said, “Today I promised I would talk to you. I don’t have an appointment with him.”
“I maybe saw the ideal father in my boss. In the end, it depends on character. The relationship between a teacher and a student in the workplace is not possible unless the student can understand the teacher’s personality. For example, when a customer with a guest came to the shop and ordered different things, we would have to make the orders separately but make sure that they were served at the same time. That was why I always watched what my boss was doing. He would say things like, “Turn the heat down a little,” but they were always vague. You are only able to detect the nuance of what a little means, once you understand a fair amount about your teacher.”
Days such as these at Mocha made the Mr. Kadowaki the expert he is today.
“I first understood that the relationship between student and teacher is a human relationship when I started roasting the coffee beans myself. We used an old-fashioned roaster, the personification of low-tech so you really do have to judge the roasting by yourself. If you don’t know what the boss would do at what time, there is no way you would be able to imitate him.”
According to Mr. Kadowaki, it goes without saying that the flannel drip is important but the most important thing in coffee is really the roasting. The reason my boss at Mocha used flannel drips was because he realized early on that this was the best way of making coffee. Mr. Kadowaki says, “As good as the expert is, he must have struggled in the past” about roasting. However, if you go any further than that, you get into real expert territory. We will have another conversation in the future about the finer details of roasting coffee.
“My coffee is a carbon copy of my boss’s coffee. It is natural that there are differences in the details but I am the same as my boss in that I put the best coffee I can into the cup that is in front of me right now. To be honest, the flannel drip method is probably not good for sales as you can’t make a number of cups at the same time. Even so, once you have come across the best method, you can’t go back to anything else. If you are going to run a coffee shop and you are going to fly the flag with a sense of mission, I feel that you have to strive for the very best.”
In order to do this, Mr. Kadowaki says that you always have to burden yourself or you won’t move forward. Even on days when he doesn’t feel good, even if there is something that he thinks his customers will not understand, Mr. Kadowaki has steeled himself to keep on trying harder and harder. This stance is both really valuable and really high quality and the result is coffee that makes people aware.
Born in Shonai, Yamagata Prefecture. After graduating from university in Tokyo, he trained at Mocha, a famous shop in Tokyo’s Kichijoji for 11 years. Since returning to his hometown 34 years ago, he has run Coffea, a specialist coffee shop near Tsuruoka Station.