This Japanese man in Chennai offers his own take on filter coffee

At his Alwarpet cafe Coffee Trotter, Hirano Takeshi serves up cups of Joe and homemade pound cake.

Hirano Takeshi sells cars by day and lattes at night. His newly opened cafe, Coffee Trotter, is chic and pleasingly minimalist, with a long communal table that encourages conversation.

Although the cafe is just 140 square feet in total, it is intuitively designed, with a compact space for the barista facing a row of seats with thoughtfully placed hooks behind them for blazers and handbags.

Fragrant with the scent of espresso, it is bright and cheery in the morning, with a steady flow of customers despite the fact that it opened recently, and very quietly. “Hirano says we have a long way to go,” says Nandakumar Kaliappa, a partner in the venture, explaining why they are cautious about publicity. “We need to get better, and are working on it.”

This Japanese man in Chennai offers his own take on filter coffee

The customers, however, seem pleased. A Japanese businessman puts down his empty coffee cup, pays and gives Hirano a thumbs up as he pushes open the glass door to leave. Hirano waves goodbye, clears the cup and washes it. Then he meticulously wipes down the space, and turns towards his next customer.

As he grinds beans and pulls a shot with his lovingly buffed Rocket espresso machine, Hirano grins and says, “This area can accommodate just one person, so the barista has to be able to do everything. This design is common in Tokyo, where spaces are small.”

He adds, “In Japan, people go to the cafe everyday for a cup of coffee before, or after, work. I wanted to create that culture.”

When Hirano moved to India six years ago, a career in coffee was certainly not part of the plan. “I was working in a Japanese automobile company, doing sales and marketing,” he says, adding with a chuckle, “I still do. I have been in this industry for 20 years, working in Japan, Dubai and Malaysia.”

This Japanese man in Chennai offers his own take on filter coffee

Part of his job involves meeting estate owners to sell pick-up trucks. “I went to Chikmagalur to meet plantation owners, and wherever I went they would say ‘have a cup of coffee. My coffee is good.’ I ended up drinking 15 cups of coffee a day — and they were right. It was very nice,” he says.

Intrigued, he bought green beans from one of the estates and started roasting them at home. “I realised Indian beans are very nice, with well balanced flavours. The challenge is roasting them — if we do proper roasting, we can get a good aroma with fruity flavours.” Hirano was so pleased with the results, he decided to start a cafe with Nandakumar, a colleague at the automobile company. “Actually, he’s my boss,” says Nandakumar, looking up from a pile of cups he is wiping dry.

The duo has trained a barista to run the space while they are at their day jobs. “We come in the evenings. And my wife is supporting us,” says Nandakumar. “On weekends I am always here,” states Hirano, adding that he enjoys meeting customers, many of whom live or work in the neighbourhood and drop by multiple times through the week. “We only serve coffee and pound cake, which I make at home,” he says, “But people are asking for samosas!”

For now, they are keeping the menu deliberately small and simple, as they want to focus on coffee. “We roast at my house, maximum 600 grams at a time, as coffee must be fresh when we serve it,” says Hirano, adding that he still practises pulling shots on his espresso machine at home everyday.

Despite his romance with the cafe, his approach to making coffee is deliberately clinical. He weighs the beans and follows precise measurements and temperatures for each cup. “I even have a manual,” he says, emerging from behind the bar with a hefty laminated book. “Look. We have developed our own filter coffee: We use a French roast for the beans, make a single espresso and foam the milk to 80 degrees.”

The result is a comforting, creamy drink with shades of vanilla. Not even close to authentic filter coffee, admittedly. But still, a fascinating amalgamation: Tokyo-inspired, French-roasted, Chikmagalur-sourced and Chennai-influenced.

Coffee Trotter is at 5, Co-Operative Colony Road, Austin Nagar, Alwarpet.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 3:03:47 AM |

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