Category Archives: coffee talk

Coffee Talk: Sawada Coffee

IMG_8463Naoto and I loved experiencing Japanese coffee culture during our last trip to Japan and now, we can enjoy a bit of it here in Chicago! Sawada Coffee opened in the West Loop and we went to try it out a few weekends ago.Sawada Coffee, CHicago, pourover coffeeHiroshi Sawada is an award-winning Japanese barista and latte artist who owns a shop, Steamer Coffee Co, in Tokyo. This is Sawada’s first coffee shop outside of Japan. (You can read a little bit about it here. The relationship between Sawada and the Chicago hospitality group who opened the shop in Chicago started with letter writing!) Sawada Coffee, West Loop, ChicagoThe place feels very “hipster,” but there are some very Japanese aspects, too. The coffee presentation is lovely, the service is impeccable, and the atmosphere is very industrial and modern. The coffee shop is connected to Green Street Meats, so there’s a lot of restaurant and bar action just steps below the coffee shop in this big open space. Sawada serves the typical range of coffee drinks, but also has some one-of-a-kind offerings, including alcoholic coffee and tea drinks.  Sawada Cold BrewNaoto ordered the Sawada Style Cold Brew, an iced coffee mixed with Japanese shochu. It came in a pot and was poured into a glass sitting in a box, similar to the way sake is sometimes served in Japan. (I was stifling a tiny laugh as our server earnestly explained the sake overflow tradition to Naoto.)Sawada style cold brew, Benedictine Chai I had a Benedictine Chai Steamer, a chai latte with Benedictine liqueur added. Both were amazing. Naoto drinking a Sawada Cold BrewWe found a seat at the windows, in spite of the place being crazy busy. Naoto at Sawada Coffee, ChicagoKimberlyAH at Sawada Coffee, Chicago, postcardsNaoto stood and texted while I wrote out a few Sawada postcards. (I love places that have free postcards!) Sawada Coffee, matcha latteI couldn’t resist trying a matcha latte, too…it was the perfect mix of strong matcha with a tiny bit of sweetness. Sawada Cold BrewWe can’t wait to go back again soon…for the coffee and the postcards. Sawada postcards, USPS blue box, West Loop

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Inoda Coffee

Inoda Coffee and DessertInoda Coffee is another classic coffee shop in Japan. My sister-in-law, Hisae, took us there and then Naoto and I stopped in later for a quick cup of coffee and a snack after a long day of craft shopping. Inoda Coffee InteriorInoda has been around since the 1940s and when you visit, it feels like not much has changed since then. The shops feel very old-school and luxurious with comfy leather chairs, classic china, and impeccable service. The servers have omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) perfected with their polite, efficient service. There are no frappes, macchiatos, or mochas here. Though they do offer a latte and “coffee with ice cream”, most of the menu is devoted to different varieties of plain ol’ (but very delicious and strong!) coffee. Inoda Coffee, Kyoto, 3 cupsApparently, they will prepare your coffee with the perfect amount of cream and sugar. Back in the day the owner noticed that customers were lingering over their coffees, thinking or chatting with friends, and letting their coffee get cold before they had a chance to add the cream and sugar. Then the cream and sugar wouldn’t blend properly, making the coffee less enjoyable. So he decided that the staff should add the cream and sugar so the coffee could be enjoyed immediately without interrupting the customers’ thoughts and conversation. Inoda Coffee SignThere are several branches of Inoda all over Kyoto and we visited two of them, but not the “honten” (main branch). Next time!

If you want to learn more about Kyoto’s coffee culture, this episode of Core Kyoto is really good! They talk about Inoda and a few other local favorites. And while you’re on the NHK World website, this episode of Great Gear is super hokey, but it’s about the International Washoku (Japanese Cuisine) Show and some of the new food technology is really fun! (Both episodes are only available until September 2.)

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Hoshino Coffee

Hoshino Coffee, SangenjayaOn our last full day in Tokyo we decided to explore Sangenjaya, the neighborhood where we stay each time we visit.  We are ashamed to say that we’ve missed out on SO MUCH good stuff! Next time, I’m going to have to remember that there’s more to Sangenjaya than Mister Donut and our hotel street! For the rest of the week, I’ll be sharing some gems from the neighborhood. IMG_3752Hoshino Coffee was one of our final hour discoveries. You can find Hoshino shops all over Japan (and even in Singapore). The Hoshino in Sangenjaya happened to be just three blocks away from our hotel. They are famous for their hand-poured coffees and their soufflé pancakes. I had the Charcoal Roast Coffee. It was STRONG, but really delicious. (It seems like all of the fancy coffee in Japan is strong.)  IMG_3753Naoto ordered a soufflé. To say it was heaven in a ramekin is an understatement. I’ve never tasted something so light and sweet and buttery. The thick chocolate syrup was rich and just bitter enough to balance the sweetness of the soufflé. IMG_3754 IMG_3757The trouble with Japan is that there are just too many good things to eat!

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Kayaba Coffee

IMG_2969Before we enjoyed Hasegawa Happy Hour at the Suzukis, we spent the day together shopping in Asakusa and having lunch and coffee in the Taito Ward of Tokyo. We went to this charming old coffee shop called Kayaba Coffee. Kayaba Coffee signKayaba Coffee building from 1917The building that holds Kayaba was built in 1917 as a house. In 1938 the Kayaba family turned the house into a coffee shop that Mrs. Kayaba and her daughter Sachiko ran for almost 70 years until Sachiko died in 2006. When Sachiko died, Kayaba closed until 2009 when it was renovated and reopened. The outside of the building has remained the same since 1917 and much of the inside–the ambiance, chairs, signage, and china–are true to the past. The chairs are super-short, designed for Japanese people in the 1930s, but they were surprisingly comfortable. (Of course, I’m short, so…)history of Kabaya coffee shopIMG_2920The menu is filled with drawings of the key historical points of the Kayaba building and history, and of the drink and food choices. They offer a huge variety of hot and cold drinks and food. (The egg salad sandwich is crafted to emulate the original recipe. I want to try it the next time we go!) IMG_2924Naoto had a Russian, a classic Kayaba drink made from half hot chocolate and half coffee. It was rich and delicious. IMG_2923I had a matcha latte and it was life-changing. The matcha, the foam, and the subtle sweetness were all perfection. And, it was stunning.

America, we need to up our matcha latte game!

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Scenes From Bunbougu Cafe

Bunbougu cafeOh Bunbougu Cafe! Please expand to my community!

I know, I know…it wouldn’t be the same. I wish more people in the US would embrace the marriage of cafes and stationery shops.

I spent a lot of time at Bunbougu during our vacation. In addition to spending my birthday there, we went back again and again for coffees and shopping. My favorite thing (other than my birthday dinner) was the snack you see above. I ordered a set that included a pot of tea and three tiny sweets. As you can imagine, I was blown away by the tiny office supply-shaped cookies. I ordered the strawberry matcha poundcake, the hazelnut ginger pencil cookies and the yuzu pepper key cookies. Everything was so flavorful and delicious–the keys were so peppery that my mouth was burning (in the best way possible!) There were other options on the menu (including a coconut flavored triangle and protractor) and you can see them here.Bunbougu cafeBunbougu cafeAll of Bunbougu Cafe’s menus are hand drawn (by one of their own workers) with gorgeous colored pencil illustrations of their food and cocktails. Bunbougu cafeOne of my favorite things to order was the caramel tea latte, a milky black tea with a hint of caramel-y sweetness. I’m working on perfecting my own at home since it will be awhile before I can drink one at Bunbougu again! If you received a postcard from me in Japan, most likely it was written at Misdo or Bunbougu…it’s the perfect place for mail! Bunbougu cafeBunbougu cafeBunbougu cafeBunbougu offers loads of unique stationery, desk items, pens and pencils, washi tape, office supplies… Many things are made in Japan and most of their offerings are from small makers and businesses. I saw many familiar American makers’ products too. I ended up buying two more silver boxes, pencils and washi tape.Bunbougu cafe

But my favorite “purchase” was my new membership at the Bunbougu Cafe. For ¥700, I now have my own membership card and a key to the stationery drawers at Bunbougu! Now each time I go, I can show off my key or my membership card and get into special events (if they ever occur during our visits) and unlock the stationery drawers at the cafe. I already left my business card in one and sifted through the pretty papers and pens…apparently too busy enjoying things to take a picture (sorry!)Bunbougu cafeSee you soon, Bunbougu Cafe!

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Vanilla Steamers, Cozy in a Cup

vanilla steamerOh the weather!

I make it a rule to never complain about snow until March. I mean, it’s only fair…winter begins in December and ends in March. It’s only sensible to expect it to snow once or twice (or a million times) in those months. Naoto and I are lucky that we can walk just about anywhere to get what we need. I’m sure if we were forced to drive on slick and snowy streets, I would feel a little bit more resentful of the weather…but for now, I’m accepting of the fact that I live in the Midwest and we get the best and worst of the four seasons.

But this winter, with its polar vortex, arctic blasts, constant snow and ice…is testing my patience. Today it is -5°F with a possible -40°F wind chill. There are wind chill warnings until Wednesday when it will warm up to a balmy 17°F. And, for the third time this year, Naoto is working from home because it’s too cold for his commute to work. Being outside for a mere ten minutes can be dangerous, so his company decided everyone should work from home just to be safe. (Most people commute by train, so walking to and from the stations and waiting for trains can be quite miserable.)

I haven’t left the apartment since Sunday afternoon…we bought a ton of groceries and prepared to hunker down at home. But last night, I was feeling a little bit stir crazy. And then I got a serious craving for a vanilla steamer. Starbucks is only two blocks away, but I thought it was rather silly to risk the tip of my nose for a drink. Plus, the steamer wouldn’t be steamy for long in sub-zero temperatures. And then I remembered that someone had given me a recipe for steamers at home…and we happened to have all of the ingredients on hand. It was meant to be.

vanilla steamer ingredientsVanilla Steamer

1 cup milk

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp vanillawarm milk on the stoveWarm milk, sugar and vanilla over medium/low heat in a saucepan. Stir until sugar is dissolved and the milk is hot but not boiling.vanilla steamer before frothPour into a mug. You could go ahead and drink it now, but part of the fun of a steamer is the frothy milk.frothing milk We have this handy, inexpensive milk frother and it froths the milk perfectly. If you don’t have a frother, the internet says you can use a blender (immersion or regular) to get the same effect, but I’ve never tried it. vanilla steamer target cat mugSteamers are perfect winter night treats, especially when you’ve hit your caffeine limit for the day. (I’ve been drinking so much coffee and tea lately just to stay warm that I was beginning to think heart palpitations are my normal heart rate…)

Stay warm this week, everyone!

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My Love, Mister Donut

mister donut 4If there is one thing in Japan that I miss most, it’s Mister Donut. More than amazing office supplies, more than fancy stationery, more than MT tape…I miss Misdo (affectionate for Mister Donut). naoto at mister donutkimberly mister donut

In normal, everyday life, I think donuts are fine. Naoto and I go to Dunkin Donuts almost every day for the coffee. Sometimes I might get a donut, but it’s really just to quash a morning sugar craving (or make the sugar craving last all day, as the case may be). Dunkin Donuts donuts are not really delicious to me. (No offense Dunk…but you guys truck them in…how can you even think that’s a good idea?) But at Mister Donut, donuts are a must. They taste different than American ones. First of all, they are made fresh on the premises. Naoto and I went to the Mister Donut right at opening on our first day in Japan (hello, jet lag!) and they were filling the shelves for the whole first hour with fresh-from-the-oven delights. Aside from the freshness, the donuts are just…different. They are lighter, less sweet and have a better consistency than American donuts (bakery & Dunkin). I seriously have never had a better donut. mister donut chestnut menuThey also have different flavors than typical American donuts. Misdo’s glazed donut is glazed with honey (not corn syrup), there is a green tea old fashioned, there are savory donuts made with puff pastry filled with a hot dog or au gratin potatoes… And, Mister Donut has new flavors that they roll out with the changing seasons. When we there there in 2011, I gorged myself on a variety of sakura (cherry blossom) donuts. This time the new flavor for fall was chestnut. Those were all amazing. Would you like to see every single donut I ate on my vacation?

1: hot dog donut, glazed pon de ring, brown sugar pon de ring

Day 1: hot dog donut, glazed pon de ring, brown sugar pon de ring

Day 2: chestnut filled chocolate pon de ring, brown sugar pon de ring, chocolate glazed pon de ring

Day 2: chestnut filled chocolate pon de ring, brown sugar pon de ring, chocolate glazed pon de ring

Day 3: hot dog donut, old fashioned, strawberry frosted pon de ring, chocolate frosted pon de ring

Day 3: hot dog donut, old fashioned, strawberry frosted pon de ring, chocolate frosted pon de ring

Day 4: old fashioned, chestnut chocolate frosted pon de ring

Day 4: old fashioned, chestnut chocolate frosted pon de ring

Day 5: chestnut filled with chestnut cream, brown sugar pon de ring, chocolate glazed pon de ring, strawberry dipped cruller

Day 5: chestnut filled with chestnut cream, brown sugar pon de ring, chocolate glazed pon de ring, strawberry dipped cruller

Day 6: hot dog donut, chestnut filled chocolate pon de ring

Day 6: hot dog donut, chestnut filled chocolate pon de ring

Day 7: old fashioned, honey glazed old fashioned

Day 7: old fashioned, honey glazed old fashioned

Keep in mind, I shared those donuts with Naoto…I didn’t eat all of them on my own. We had fun each morning choosing the next one to try, or going back for old favorites like the hot dog. I cannot tell you which is my favorite. It changed by the day. You just really can’t go wrong with Misdo. mister donut 16In “our” Mister Donut (the one by the hotel…hey, we were “regulars”!), you walk in and pick up a little tray and tongs and choose your own donuts. At the cash register, the staff transfers your donuts to a plate (and warms up your hot dog donut if you wish) and places the plate on another tray with your coffee. Then you can take your tray to your seat at a table or a counter by the window. When you sit in the restaurant, your little red Misdo cup is a bottomless cup of coffee. The Misdo staff comes around and pours refills periodically, carrying a little basket with creamers and sugars. Naoto and I drank a lot of refills, especially because we were up so early and had a lot of time to kill before places opened at eleven.

mister donut 15On our last full day in Japan, Naoto had to pick up his suit–He bought a suit in Japan!–so I stayed at Mister Donut alone and wrote my postcards and people watched. He was a little bit worried about the language barrier, but really, I didn’t think “more coffee please” would be that difficult to communicate. (It wasn’t.) kimberly naoto mister donutmister donut 12I’m already dreaming of my next Misdo visit…mister donut 5

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Heaven is bunbougu cafe

IMG_3720 Stationery store + coffee shop = heaven, am I right?

Hisae (Naoto’s older sister) played tour guide for us during part of our stay in Tokyo. She mentioned that she had a “surprise” for me. Well, the surprise was bunbougu cafe and it was more amazing than I could have imagined.

(This is where I will tell you that I regret a few things about our trip to Japan. One is that I didn’t carry my “big” camera with me very often and another is that I didn’t take more pictures. Sigh. Sorry for my poor iPhone photos!)Bunbougu cafeBunbougu cafe is in Omotesando neighborhood. It is in the basement of a building and you walk down into a stationery shop and cafe. There are place mats (seen above) at each seat and pens, rubber stamps, markers, colored pencils and other art supplies are available to borrow for doodling and writing. They have a full menu available, but we came right after lunch, so we ordered drinks and doodled a bit at the table as I sat amazed at this incredible cafe concept. bunbougu cafe drinksWhile we waited for our drinks, I poked around the store. Bunbougu sells stationery, cards, pens, stickers, washi tape, pen cases, boxes…pretty much anything you could imagine needing if you’re a letter writer or journaler. In addition to the obvious Japanese stationery offerings, they had a lot of my favorite American designers at bunbougu. I saw lots of Rifle Paper Co., Yellow Owl Workshop and Chicago’s own Field Notes! Field Notes were even one of the bunbougu employee’s favorite picks! Field Notes at Bunbougu Cafe I limited myself to a few purchases (which I will share in a bit!) and spent most of my time hanging out with Naoto and Hisae drawing at the table and enjoying my coffee. Naoto at bunbougu As if being a stationery store/cafe didn’t make bunbougu awesome enough, they have a membership option. For 700 yen (about $7) members receive a key to the stationery drawers at each table. Members have access to the “secret” pens, stationery, art supplies and other treats in the drawers. They also get invited to members-only events and seminars about stationery and other paper-y things. Isn’t this a genius concept? Now, who wants to move to Omotesando with me to join bunbougu cafe? Better yet, who wants to open one here in Chicago? bunbougu cafeFor a great article and better pictures of the bunbougu cafe, go here!

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Coffee Talk | Trader Joe’s Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

IMG_3005Our local Trader Joe’s (the Oak Park location) put their new Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate on the shelves last week and sold out instantly. I guess this shouldn’t be surprising, since cold brew is the latest craze in coffee brewing right now. Nonetheless, I was mad at Naoto for not snagging some up sooner. When it arrived again in the store shipment a few days later, Naoto pulled a couple of bottles for me. (One of the many, many perks of being married to a TJs guy.)

Last week, I was hitting the afternoon slump–the time of the day when, if I look at the napping cat for too long, I tend to join her. Instead, I pulled the concentrate out of the fridge with high hopes.

It’s good. Very good.

The bottle recommends one part concentrate to two parts water or milk. I like my iced coffees with cream (hot coffee is to be drunk black, unless it’s Dunkin Donuts!), so this is what I mixed up:

2 oz Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

3.5 oz water

0.5 oz cream

splash of simple syrup

Serve over ice.

Lately I’ve been too lazy (seriously, so lazy) to make simple syrup, so I’ve been substituting with agave syrup. It’s surprisingly good!

I’ve been drinking iced coffees in the mornings and in the afternoons thanks to the conveniently chilled bottle in the fridge. And at $7.99, it’s done wonders for our coffee budget (which includes constant trips to Panera, Dunkin Donuts and Caribou throughout the week!) And it’s made us curious to try making cold brew of our own…one of these days!

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A Sunday in Spring


Sunday was the first day that had a real taste of spring in Chicago. It was warm enough to finally go coat-less and the sun was shining with a brightness that hasn’t been seen in months. Naoto and I took advantage of the warm afternoon and took a walk downtown Oak Park. We stopped at Sugar Fixe, a local pastry shop, for coffee and pie. (Lemon meringue–highly recommended!)

Sidenote: We sat at a table in the actual spot where Naoto and I had our very first conversation in 2001. Sugar Fixe replaced a children’s clothing store which replaced the coffee shop where we met. 

During our coffee break, I pulled out my camera and took a few shots of Naoto enjoying his coffee. I’m taking an online photography class this month and I’m trying to get more comfortable using my camera out in public. There is nothing more awkward than pulling out a big ol’ DSLR and then feeling like you are stumbling through your technique (if you can even call it “technique”). Naoto was my model as I played around with depth of field.

DSC_0079 DSC_0081 DSC_0082 DSC_0083 DSC_0088 DSC_0089

A perfect day for practicing…

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