20th December 2014. Kyoto, Japan
It was late in the evening when by pure chance. I missed my bus stop to the hostel and encountered, a rather obscure cafe on my way back. With just a simple sign reading "直珈琲". It was Nao Coffee (直珈琲), an exclusive, little café...that I have heard much about. The extraordinary experiences at Nao Coffee from my friend and tutor has always intrigued me. I was hesitant at first and still kind of lost after missing my stop, but what the heck I slowly pushed opened the door and was welcomed to sit in Japanese.
Nao Coffee is a modest and minimalist café. It can only seat about 6 people, all counter seats. The owner prepares the coffee behinds a counter. There are no fanciful décor, just polished, clean wooden interiors with a mountain shaped fudeoki and a seasonal flower décor on the wall behind the counter. The austere aesthetics seemed reminded me of a Japanese tearoom.
The menu has tea, cake and different roasts of coffee from strong to mild. I had the Guatemalan, a relatively mild roast. The owner then prepares the coffee meticulously, paying attention to every detail including bubbles on the coffee or the vessel which holds the coffee. Word is that the owner would pick a different coffee cup and saucer for each patron intentionally.
I got a delicate porcelain cup, with flora patterns and a sepia colour tone. I tried to take a picture of the cup but the owner quickly snapped “No Pictures.”
It was a meditative and yet intensive experience at Nao Coffee as I tried to focus on the coffee and its subtle flavours. I remembered the mildness and the mellow sourness that followed behind the bitterness of the smooth black coffee. The owner would converse with a couple of regular patrons who stopped by while remained silent at other times, disturbed only by the ruffling of newspapers as he sits behind the bar in one corner reading the newspapers. These moments of silence can be quite intimidating.
As I left Nao Coffee, I thought this is probably one of the most memorable café visits or moments in my Japan trip. The intensity and that momentary departure from usual habits and routines like checking phones or taking pictures and instead focus on the specially prepared cup of coffee, the room and oneself... the time to contemplate was a truly beautiful experience.