Energy to Spare: 4 Hours for 1 Cup of Coffee Proves Osaka Coffee Brewer’s Devotion to Every Drop

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kanji Tanaka serves cups of coffee at his cafe “The Munch” in Yao, Osaka Prefecture.

OSAKA — “It takes about 30 minutes for the first droplet of coffee to trickle down. You can time it.”

Indeed, after 29 minutes and 50 seconds, a black bead of coffee oozed out of the cotton filter and dripped into the cup.

“See,” exclaimed Kanji Tanaka, the 79-year-old proprietor of the cafe, with a look of pride.

The black beads of coffee continued trickling, one at a time. It took a whole hour, but the specially blended coffee had finally filled the cup.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The first drop of coffee falls into a cup 29 minutes and 50 seconds after Tanaka starts making it.

“The Munch” is a cafe hidden away in a residential area of Yao, Osaka Prefecture. On the all-coffee menu, there are about 100 varieties listed.

Appended to each item are expressions such as “within expectations,” “beyond expectations” and “way beyond expectations,” showing the proprietor’s pride and joy in the taste of each cup of coffee.

In search of a superb cup of coffee, to be brewed over as much as four hours, true coffee connoisseurs visit the cafe.

In just one mouthful of coffee savored in this reporter’s mouth, the strong aroma of the coffee he brewed — something Tanaka proudly refers to “a dish rather than a drink” — travels through the nostrils with a nutty sweetness peculiar to a tree nut. It flows into the mouth, letting its deep bitterness gradually seep into the back of the throat.

“I have fully devoted myself to making a cup [of coffee],” Tanaka said.

How can such a unique aroma be produced? His coffee making is characterized by the amount of beans used to brew a single cup.

Tanaka said that a cafe generally has 150 to 200cc of coffee extracted from 15 grams of beans, or 30cc from 20 to 25 grams of beans for a rich espresso. At Tanaka’s cafe, however, only 30cc of coffee is extracted from about 100 grams of beans.

He uses up to 10 times the usual amount of coffee beans and roasts them all by himself. At his cafe, a cup of coffee goes for at least ¥1,300.

Tanaka believes that making coffee is akin to his hobby of writing poems. And just like a poem that has the charm of words and phrases condensed, the essence of his coffee is encapsulated in his technique of not producing any unpleasant aftertaste, drawn from his many years of experience.

“I want people to have a transcendent experience that they can enjoy only at my cafe.”

He touts himself as a seeker of truth, but coffee was not his biggest sales item when he first opened his cafe at this location in 1981.

“I wanted to show off my motorcycle,” he said. Tanaka named his cafe “The Munch,” after the large 1,200cc motorbike he imported from former West Germany, and placed on display at the location. The cafe subsequently became a popular spot among young motorcycle riders, who showed up day after day.

After a few years, however, as he began to worry that such popularity would quickly subside, he came across a cup of coffee that changed his life.

It was at “Cafe de L’ambre” in Ginza, Tokyo, which was featured in a magazine at the time. When he visited that cafe to research the coffee and took a sip from the brew he ordered, the fine body and bitterness of the coffee filled his mouth.

“I thought to myself, ‘I want to spend my whole life trying to pursue the taste of coffee like this.’”

After he returned to his cafe, he immediately nixed items such as breakfast specials and changed his business model to create a cafe where customers could just enjoy coffee in a luxurious atmosphere.

He compared countless varieties of beans and degrees of roasting while increasing the quantity of beans to brew each cup.

Because the cost to produce one cup of coffee has kept going up, he has repeatedly raised his prices, causing a gradual drop in the number of patrons.

“Once I fall in love with something, I go all-in,” Tanaka said. “Looking back now, I was swept away in the joys of youth,” he said with a laugh.

Tanaka has a unique method of making coffee, which he calls “aging.”

One day, about 28 years ago, he realized that he had forgotten about some coffee he had left to chill in the refrigerator. “I have to throw it away, but that would be such a waste,” he thought. But he took a sip, he found that it didn’t taste stale at all, but was sweeter and richer in body.

“Just like wine or whiskey, I could bring out a stronger flavor by letting it age,” he thought.

He named this phenomenon “aging,” made research on preservation methods, and added it to the menu. The “coffee aged 28 years,” preserved in a wooden cask with the inside temperature kept at minus 3 degrees, costs ¥110,000 for 40cc.

In 2019, the crown prince of an emirate of the United Arab Emirates made a private visit to the cafe to taste the “aged” coffee. He is said to have learned about the brew through a YouTube video.

One man was so smitten with Tanaka’s original cup of coffee that he became an apprentice of Tanaka’s and later opened his own cafe.

Shiro Fukuzawa, 75, who runs “Caffee Domenica” in Izumi, Osaka Prefecture, said, “I was so overwhelmed by his deep passion and meticulous work that wouldn’t lose its flavor even when the coffee was deeply roasted. No matter how hard I try to recreate its aroma, I can never achieve it,” said Fukuzawa with deep respect for Tanaka.

Tanaka keeps his cafe open from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. the following day, seven days a week, year-round. He wants his cafe to be “a place where anyone can drop by any time, any day.” He waits patiently for customers while quietly composing poems alone, and napping.

He says, “The cafe just looks like it’s about to go under. It won’t. Let’s sit back and chat until the best cup of coffee you’ll ever have is ready.”