Nespresso has created an experiential centre for Tokyo residents, aiming to pass on a passion for coffee.
NESPRESSO OPENED ITS OMOTESANDO FLAGSHIP LAST SPRING, FEATURING THE FIRST “COFFEE EXPERIENTIAL CENTRE” IN ASIA. THIS ISN’T THE FIRST TIME NESPRESSO HAS OFFERED ITS GUIDANCE TO CLIENTS LOOKING FOR A FIRST TASTE OF THE WORLD OF COFFEE. However, the enthusiasm with which the people of Tokyo have welcomed the initiative is unprecedented. For a small fee, participants can sign up to coffee initiation or connoisseur sessions. The format is always the same: an initial hour of theory followed by half an hour to an hour of practical experiences, presentation of new recipes and of course coffee tasting.
QUALITY TO THE FORE
Guests at the Tokyo boutique clearly want to know more than simply how Nespresso machines work. For the Japanese, curiosity is not seen as indiscreet, but rather as a sign of approval. They seem to enjoy testing their knowledge through the questions they ask, seeking guidance and affirmation as they learn more and more. Just as in the martial arts, with their range of coloured belts, they like to measure their growing mastery in the subject, which is why a certificate programme has been created for course participants, and a higher-level course is currently being prepared. Nespresso Magazine sat in as a fly on the wall at a coffee lovers’ session. The trainers presented an aromatic atlas of coffee-producing countries and discussed the complementary nature of certain sources for blending into a perfectly balanced, nuanced and complex Espresso. They highlighted the importance to Nespresso of freshly-ground coffee, highlighting how quickly the aromas are lost if they are not hermetically locked away from air, sunlight and moisture. Then, the speakers quickly showed how to use the machines – the need to wait for the water to get to operating temperature, insert the capsule and allow the machine to gently pour the perfect Espresso. Guests enjoyed the way the coffee and the smooth, foamy “crema” blended momentarily in the clear glass cup, before each part separated out into its rightful position, just as smoke rises above the flames of a bonfire. Indeed, an Espresso without its “crema” is not even worthy of the name. After testing the even spread of the foamy top on the back of a spoon, guests were invited to taste the coffee. The first sensation is the roasted flavour, clinging sensually to the aromatic profile of the coffee, like a well-fitting dress that lends the dignity of marble to the body it is clothing. Too strong a roast would level off the aromatic forms of a Grand Cru, drowning its shapely curves like a rough hessian fabric.
All of a sudden, a loud sucking sound was heard from the participants, the sound the Japanese make when savouring their soba buckwheat noodles, allowing the Espresso to flow over their whole palate. The aim of the exercise was to show that coffee is more than just a stimulant – it is a delicate blend of aromas that operate a bit like the primary colours that are used to create the vast range of shades seen on a television screen. The instructors showed a flavour map of various Nespresso Grands Crus, highlighting the respective strength of the five basic flavours: bitterness, sweetness, savoury, acidity and the typically Japanese concept of “umami”. This term describes the fifth in the palette of basic tastes, a “quintessence”, soft and subtle like the glowing halos around the heads of the saints in religious paintings. It is found in unusual coincidences and circumstances, rare as when the sun is darkened by a total eclipse. The peoples of the Far East seem to have a heightened perception of it, thanks to their remarkable sensory awareness. It may well be that the success of these coffee talks is less to do with exploring exotic new discoveries than the desire to rediscover already familiar flavours. Do the Japanese enjoy certain coffees for their thicker consistency – a feature they appreciate in a unique way, like those words that are common to several languages, but with different meanings? The foam on the typically Japanese whipped tea is reminiscent of the creamy top on a good Espresso. Both beverages are powerful and intense – coffee with its bitter and acid undertones, and the matcha tea with its husky, guttural notes. Contrary to stereotypes, the Japanese do very much enjoy strong sensations. Though they are taught from an early age to separate out the flavours of a dish, storing them up in different areas of the palate, they enjoy the fire of wasabi horseradish, dissipating the delicate tones of a raw fish dish, as a rogue gust of wind ripples the smooth surface of a becalmed sea. Japan is home to probably the largest “gourmet coffee” market. It might even be said that the moniker was invented here, with the nation’s love of pure origin coffees, including the famous “Jamaican Blue Mountain”. The history of this coffee is emblematic of the enterprising spirit and quest for excellence within Japan’s coffee culture. After being ravaged by a tragic hurricane season, Jamaica found itself wooed by Japanese traders in the 1990s, offering to buy up the next year’s whole crop, provided that the farmers complied with an ambitious quality charter. The sky-high costs incurred would be covered by a purchase price much higher than market rates. This was the dawn of “single origin” coffees.
Text Julien Bouré - Photography Jean-Claude Amiel - Production Sandrine Giacobetti