One of the most important coffee markets in the world, Japan imports more than 930 million pounds of it each year — more than France, less than Italy. It’s not a fad. There are coffee shops in Japan that date to at least the 1940s and traditions that reach back even further; it’s a culture that prizes brewed coffee over espresso (although that’s changing) and clarity over body. Coffee is as Japanese as baseball and beer.
Until just a few years ago, much of the coffee gear that made it to the United States from Japan was brought here in suitcases. It wasn’t contraband, just obscure, a trickle of kettles and cones picked up by coffee obsessives or their well-traveled friends who didn’t mind lugging the extra bulk.
One adopter — and importer — of Japanese gear was James Freeman of Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland, San Francisco and now Brooklyn. Freeman and his wife, the pastry chef Caitlin Williams Freeman, recounted a visit to Chatei Hatou, a Tokyo coffee shop where brewing coffee isn’t exactly a ceremony but is ceremonious. They said beans were weighed, ground, emptied into a filter and preinfused with a little bit of water that let the coffee bloom and release carbon dioxide. Cups and saucers were warmed, a slice of chiffon cake was set in the fridge to firm up. Only then was the coffee brewed, slowly.