31 January 2008
Alas, today there was no roast battle. Izaki and Hide left for Osaka early this morning for the second round of JBC Prelims. Surprise surprise, Izaki bought me a shinkansen ticket so that I can go see Hide's competition! I leave tomorrow evening and come back the following night. I went to Osaka two years ago and had my fair share of takoyaki and okonomoyaki... this time will just be for Hide. After the competition, though, it will be a quick last week before I leave.
Tonight, Yuka and two of her friends from work took me out to dinner for some of the best gyoza I've ever had. It was pretty beautiful inside with an open kitchen that was impeccibly clean. Starters included a salad similar to what Yuko makes in my bento every day (sauteed greens with salt and black seasame) and the best tofu I've ever had. It was soft like frozen yogurt but not as cold. Normally such smooth texture would make me turn my head, but this was incredible. The gyoza itself came out sizzling on an iron pan without four rows of 8 little gyoza, all hand made there at the restaurant.
More posting when I return from Osaka! Ganbare, Hidenori!
29 January 2008
28 January 2008
dave will be joining me soon in Tokyo. please check out his blog and buy one of those shirts you've always wanted but could never get. He's worked hard on the blog and the shirts, mainly just to get him to Tokyo. So at least check it out. okthanks yourethebest.
27 January 2008
Yesterday at Honey, a beautiful woman walked in dressed in full kimono gear. Her name is Yumiko. She is in her mid 60's but could easily pass for 45. I told her of my love for traditional Japanese textiles, and it just so happens that she has spent much time studying said subject, along with the art of wearing kimono. She asked me, if I had the time, if Id like to learn how to wear kimono, and of course I accepted.
Tonight Yumiko came over with all of the essentials, including this 1970's era kimono. Worth almost a grand, it fit me like a glove. I can now say I feel a little more Japanese. Click on the photo to see more at Flickr.
25 January 2008
Today's battle was roasting Ethiopia Sidamo, a coffee I am very familiar with from Counter Culture, but I was curious as to how this selection would taste in comparison.
My coffee was roasted a little lightly, and Yoshi's was pretty much right on. Izaki was out of the shop today, so he will not be cupping until tomorrow to have the final say as to who wins this battle. I predict Yoshi, although I feel like something was missing in the cup, as if the coffee had more than the berry notes to offer. During roasting the beans' aroma was powerfully beautiful. Every day I am amazed at how much coffee can offer in aroma, and for me the aroma is more powerful than taste.
I have probably been feeling this way because I am having difficulty linking my senses of smell and taste. Taste by tongue is really just the five basic types, and coffees at honey all have strong characteristics of sweet and acidic. I thought I was still missing something, like why dont I taste pistachio or strawberry like Yuko tastes in this coffee? But I guess its because I am not combining my smell and taste sensory systems... If you think you have more information or ideas about this, please comment. I'm curious.
24 January 2008
Japanese sweets. Everyday. And I can't say no.
It's something different every day. Usually omiyage from a customer or close friend of the shop's, or something Yuko saw at the bakery on her way to the shop.. it's all delicious, and they're all full of sugar.
FUTORU is the word for "fat." It comes up in conversation often as we all comment on our own (over)eating habits. Maybe it's the good cooking, or we could just feel over stuffed considering none of us are active during the day because we work for 9 or 10 hours, and then eat a large meal very late in the evening.
So it was strange, yet seemingly in context, for my host family to hear me refer to my boyfriend as "Dave" for the first time tonight (instead of "David"). If "Dave" is pronounced w/ a Japanese accent, it sounds like "DEBU" which means "fatty" in Japanese. Not fatty like "This steak is fatty," but more like "You're turning into a little fatty."
Mistranslation also occured when a young Japanese man walked into the shop tonight asking me if I knew a "Ben" from LaGrange, GA. OK, thats weird in itself. Yes, I know this Ben. Motorcycle kid that loves an Octane cappuccino. Awesome. The world is small yet again. What Izaki had problems with was explaining to his wife who Ben was. In Japanese, "BEN" is something like "pooping."
Both translations are quite unfortunate considering their regularity in American culture. Something I found quite interesting though was the brand name "Little Debby." Notorious for their fattening little cake snacks, the brand's name itself can easily warn you of your life ahead if you indulge too much. Perhaps I will remember Little Fatty next time I pass the bakery window. Just because you are far away from America does not mean youre immune to its faults. Damn.
22 January 2008
My one day-off a week began yesterday as we pulled the blinds down at the shop. The entire crew set off for a night at the local Izakaya. I had spoken often of wanting to go, and the Izaki family made the trip particularly special. The food was interesting, ranging from rare meats to fried balls of mashed potatoes. I ate what I could, and smiled politely at what I couldn't. The main course was nabemono, in which we plopped in tofu, chicken, and an array of tasty veggies.
The atmosphere was particularly exciting as there was only enough room for two large parties, ours and another, and four seats at the small "bar." Our Honey group is always lively, usually with Hidenori's presence. Whoever said the Japanese are reserved are liars. Conversation ranged from the story of how I met Dave to the proper uses of the word "fuck" and what a "happy trail" is. English was used most of the night to keep me included (thank you), but usually in experimentation of obviously broken english, thus keeping us in constant giggles and question marks. The night ended with a surprise dimming of the lights and a macha crepe with a candle atop, matched with a precious bouquet of pink roses. Another "Welcome, we love you" present from the crew. So sweet.
Today was spent winding through the countryside and rolling mountains of Kyushu with a girl named Yuka and her english speaking friend. We traveled a few hours outside of Fukuoka to make a special and much needed journey to a traditional japanese onsen. It was part of a larger beautiful ryokan, and I was stunned with its architecture. Of course, I forgot my camera. We were the only ones there, and heavenly might be the only way to describe it. Water rolled over the stones surrounding the edges of the large bath, and steam filled the room. The water was hot enough to make me doubt my existence, but quickly I found my body completely relaxed.
Just through the windows we could see the forest-covered volcanic mountains, laced with steam. It was cold, but we decided to go outside for the nicer view and enjoy the bath of the rotenburo. Again, heaven. These baths are lined with stones, set in the ground, and somehow created the perfect setting for me to become friends with these two people. Bathing like this is special to me, and I felt fortunate to meet others that felt the same.
On the way back we stopped at a roadside traditional japanese restaurant to eat handmade soba. for dessert, omochi and real wasabi root cooked in soy sauce. So delicious, filled me up to make me sleep the whole ride home. zzzz.. When we returned to the apartments, no one was home. Yuka and I decided to go shopping as I expressed an interest in Japanese textiles and she knew "just the place." It was a little kitchy, but the socks collection was pretty amazing. A sweet old man owned the place and tried out his english on me.
Old man: Where are you from?
Me: Atlanta. USA. You know?
Old man: ooooh! The Braves!! Go Braves!
really? I go halfway around the world and I can still hear someone say "go braves." Amazing. Yuka gave him a brief rundown of what I was interested, that I like to sew and I enjoy vintage goods. He pulled out a stack of vintage kimonos and together we sorted through them. Beautiful and in great shape. I found one with a pattern I liked, tried it on, and it fit like magic (at least thats what I thought). I smiled and said thankyou, not even thinking to ask what the price was knowing that kimono prices are in the thousands. But yuka asked, and youll never believe it, but it was about twenty bucks. I never thought I would ever own a kimono, none the less buy one on this trip, but things seemed to fall perfectly into place. The sweet old man even gave me a hankerchief with all of the yearly animals on it. Funny, considering just last night I learned what they all were and which one I am (the ox).
We returned home, and my evening ended with me asking Izaki of how he first came into coffee. It was difficult to get a clear answer as to what first intrigued him. The earliest I could reach was him reading many books on coffee and feeling that they were incorrect. I kept asking, but why were you reading books on coffee? What was your first inspiration to make you want to know more? I couldnt get an answer. He pointed me to a book on his bookshelf, and Ive been leafing through it since. Coffee, a Celebration of Diversity. It will probably take me the rest of my time here to get through it. The content is dense and thourough. I just wish it was easier to ask Izaki about his knowledge of coffee and get a good answer. Mmm language barriers.
Izaki and Hide disappeared from the house about two hours ago. Who knows where they went. They didnt say. Yuko sits on the floor watching a special on Ichiro the baseball player, and Yasuhide went to bed early (I think he may be getting sick). The holiday is over and it is back to work. At least the attitude is usually like this:
love always, your almost japanese friend, danielle.
19 January 2008
The first day left me feeling a little intimidated. All of the competitors were definitely practiced and rehearsed, but nothing really exciting. Definitely safe, as every competitor shook with tremors as they set their espressos in front of the judges and poured their caps. The way the room was set up allowed for two stations, seating for 70 or so, and behind the audience was the competitor's area (two long lunch tables, kind of). No stage, no stadium style seating, and no big screen. the only way to check out the surface of those spros and caps was to get a spot on the front row and hope that one of the judges would flash you a lucky one. Fortunately, one of the sensory judges was my coffee-sensee Izaki. My favorite performances in terms of equipment used and lack of overwhelming fear were two baristas from the same shop. Antique grinder and tampers, double rosettas, well-spoken with tons of smiles, with the proverbial icing on the cake being James Taylor as their chosen competition tunes.
Other memorable moments (of both days) include:
- the second competitor of day one preground his espresso during the 10 minute set up time, placed it in a little tupperware container, and then proceeded to pour espresso into portafilter basket, and then distribute and tamp. Too bad he DQ'd. I would have liked to know his reasoning. Oh, and did I mention he was dressed to donald trump nines, cuff links and all? And yes, his hair was gelled and slicked back.
- a young man using illy coffee decided he didnt like the first set of capp bases, and would re-extract while steaming milk. Well, not only was he pulling the shots while steaming milk, but he also managed to pour the first set of caps, steam a second pitcher of milk, and only then realize that the shots were still going. I timed it as at least a minute. They were definitely running close to clear by the time he turned around and hung his head low. I thought he might be crying as he stood there in front of the FB80, everyone sitting in silence... but instead he kept it together and turned around to appologize to the judges and call time.
- a very short middleaged man wearing a strikingly obvious wig (he was bald, perhaps a disease of some sort we assumed), nearly ned in color, and fluffy like an old lady's hair on a sunday morning before church. And it was of course he who gave an outstanding presentation while his chosen music of southern gospel rang loudly throughout the room. It look a lot for me to keep it together.
- another man who also DQ'd intentionally chose smooth jazz as his music. smooth jazz, by choice. Izaki san loves smooth jazz, too. I thought it was only my mom and dentist offices. I would say only a tenth of the competitors even chose to use music, thus creating a very tense atmosphere in the silence of cappuccino preparations..
There were a couple of really great performances, but it is only the judges that could say what tasted good. and thats really the point, afterall, right?
I also got the chance to meet last year's #2 JBC barista. So sweet. She works as head barista at Zoka in Tokyo now, working too much but doing a great job. I'll be visiting her when I return to Tokyo next month.
Other delights in Tokyo included the overnight stay in a traditional Japanese Ryokan. One of the last of its kind, family owned, and creepy as hell. I felt for sure that I was going to find a blank tape next to the TV or find a long haired girl walking down the hall. <
the sign above the TV is probably 50 years old and reads "For your safety, never smoke in bed."
Also, it was freezing. Below, actually, with the wind. Yet for some reason I felt invigorated by it. Walking around the city, riding the trains, I felt like I was in a real city again. Suddenly the realization hit me: Fukuoka is just like Atlanta!! Woah! All there is to do is go shopping, which has really started to bore me as the only use of my free time. Even today in the shop we ha d acouple of fluently speaking English folks come in, and I chatted it up with them for a few minutes each. When I told them I was from Atlanta, their first reaction was "Ahh yes, I love the south. So nice. Fukuoka is really similar, dont you think? Nice and slow, and not crazy like Tokyo." Oops. I like crazy like Tokyo.
We had dinner at a place called Respkt, one of a group of cafes/restaurants called Cafe Company. It reminded me of Octane's concept with a heavier emphasis on food and a lighter (as in no espresso machine) emphasis on coffee. Their marketing, PR girl joined us for dinner, and the three japanese chatted it up as I sat their, in silence. Occassionally Izaki would try to catch me up on what theyre talking about, but it was difficult to be interested when you cant really contribute. I tried, but once again I was lost in translation.
Strangely enough, last night when I returned back home, Yuko (mom) asked me how I felt being away from the cafe. Apparently Yoshi said the shop was lonely without me, and I replied felt lonely without them. Yoshi and Nataka are pretty cool cats with a lot to contribute. I felt so much better going to work today. Conversation was fluid and we even got a few minutes to hang out outside to look at the dried up river. Like Atlanta, Fukuoka is in a drought, and all of the rivers stand like mosquito ponds in the middle of the stretch.
News at home in atlanta reads : snow, and Octane's entrance wall got a facelift. sounds like good times are going. keep it up kids, ill be back soon.
16 January 2008
I felt strangely better afterwards.
Tomorrow I leave for a short trip to Tokyo with Hide-san. We are going to watch the Tokyo qualifying rounds for the JBC. Its a little different than USBC... Two sets of qualifying rounds, one in Tokyo, one in Osaka. Four days each, 20 COMPETITORS EACH DAY. Holy crap. 10 minute presentation, 4 espressos, 4 caps. 1 tech judge, 2 sensory, one head judge. After both Osaka and Tokyo rounds are finished, they choose the top 16 competitors (out of 160!) to go on to the semifinals of JBC in Tokyo. So we are going to watch and take notes. See what works, what doesnt. I'll report back when I return to Fukuoka on Friday night, no internet until then.
much love, miss you all. wish you were here. yatta yatta.
14 January 2008
My host family's candid manner helps. Talking about things like farts and porn oddly make me feel at home (I am in a home with two teenage boys, what do you expect?). Its really a relief after the structered politeness of Japanese business. Tonight Hide offered his experience of going to porn rental store a few weeks ago where he was turned down because his ID proved him a year too young. Hide simply shruggs his shoulders with a "I tried" look on his face, and the family laughed when I expected the parents to bow their head in shame. It was at this moment I felt accepted.
I am trying to recollect the two weeks we accepted a french boy into our home when I was 15 years old. I remember I was working at Brusters (an ice cream shop), and it was sometime around the 4th of July. The boy's name was Bartholemeu (Bart for short), but we all called him Frenchie instead. It was hot, as all Atlanta summers are, and Sara and I spent the majority of our high school days in the airconditioned basement online, chatting with our friends, trying to coordinate meeting up at the mall or the pool. Our lives were less than complex, and our free time was extraordinarily American. Unlike my Japanese host family, our sense of responsibility for him was minimal. His pale, white skin was of no importance to us when we suggested going to the pool or to Lake Lanier as something fun to do. He was so burned, even just sitting underneath the umbrella. His english was limited, as was his desire to communicate, so I never really got to know him.
At the end of Bart's stay, we all sighed a heavy breath of relief, and only seldomly heard from him again. I feel lucky that I am not like Bart in this situation. I am creating deep, lasting bonds with this family, an opportunity that is rare not only for a foreigner in Japan, but even for myself in my own city. With some solid advice from friends that have been here too, it is best to cherrish these awkward/trying/difficult times. I'm learning something right now, wether I am aware of it or not. So with that said, I am ready to continue. lezgo!
12 January 2008
The first half of my day was like this. Pretty gloomy. I blame the weather. Its beginning to feel like winter again, and the sky was overcast with some rain. Business was slow, so I had no drinks to make, so again I felt useless. I noticed Izaki-san pull out the sample roaster, bringing a slight smile to my face. So I roasted my first coffee today. It was Panama Don Peppe. Roasted a little too light, and slightly missing its pre-noted chocolate and blackberry aromas and flavors. Alas, I at least am now familiar with the process. I understand where the smelling is important, where the listening is necessary, and where good eyes for color come to play.
The day was broken up with a very special and lucky visit to a nearby temple where a traditional wedding was taking place. It is very rare that Japanese take part in such tradition, so I was told I should feel very lucky! They let me take many many pictures, all to come to your eyes sooner or later... I felt a little awkward, perhaps it was because it was only highlighting my feeling as a foreign presence. Alas, after this, my mood was up a little, and I managed to pull out some strength for the rest of the day.
Dinner was probably the most amazing part of the trip thus far. I finally took part in eating the highly acclamined Hakata-style ramen. AND IT WAS AMAZING. Better than I could have ever imagined. I will go there again before I leave. At least twice.
Spirits are high with good food in my stomach, so I will retire now with a smile on my face. Goodnight, and see you tomorrow, friends.
11 January 2008
Today, Izaki-san and I spent time reviewing SCAA cupping guides and score sheets, analyzing each score section and methods to determine said scores. As in true Japanese style, we break everything down to a science of precision and accuracy. Everything from posture to vocabulary is important, and I am always standing to be corrected. I, the humble american student, can only learn from my wise japanese coffee master. I heard this phrase all day: stand up straight! A straight posture with a solid spine is good for your breathing when tasting. The japanese way is the perfect way, EVERY TIME. NO slacking, my friends.
So I start to cup the japanese way, I walk the japanese way, and now I begin to talk the japanese way. Today I fooled a native Japanese couple into thinking I was Japanese. My accent is perfect when I say, 'Excuse me sir, here is you cappuccino, please enjoy.' Of course, it is probably because I am saying this over and over. So, from this you infer that I serve many cappuccinos at Honey, and you are right in this assumption.
Honey Coffee is not a cafe, but a 'bean shop.' People buy bulk beans for their home, and while they wait for their order, they enjoy a cappuccino. Five ounces, one one-ounce S.O. shot. Today, we were serving a SO espresso from Aceh. Yesterday, it was Ethiopia Hamu. Yum yum yum. I have never spent this much time with SO espsresso before, and I have to say I was really intimidated. Now, the possibilities seem endless. The Japanese say 'Oishi.' Delicious.
10 January 2008
The Katsuhide family is incredible. Truly amazing. The hospitality I am receiving is five stars... I have my own bedroom, every meal is cooked for me, and they are all very helpful with teaching me Japanese as much as they are eager to learn English. I couldnt have asked for more. They are SO FUNNY, I am laughing all day long. They are all very full of love and have a great passion for coffee.
Everyone, including myself and their other two staff members, work every day except when the shop is closed on Tuesdays. They roast every day in the shop, and it is definitely a team effort. The mother, Yuke, is actually the master roaster! Izaki has great respect for her, and that I find truly admirable. Everyone cups every roasted batch and feedback is appreciated. I am learning new things about new coffees, and ways to cup/taste them. I am having a hard time recalling the estate names at the moment, but the Ethiopia Hamu (I think) and a Costa Rican coffee are proving to be my favorites. Izaki-san definitely leans towards clean coffees with chocolate and floral notes. No complaints here. Ethiopia Sidamo will be arriving in his shop next week. YUM! Hide (the oldest son who I am training for JBC) is very exicted about the Sidamo. Good call. This 17yr old is teaching me a thing or two about coffee. I am so impressed.
Yesterday, Hide, Izaki, and myself rode our bikes to the clothing district in Fukuoka to buy a nice apron for competition. Yes, there is a shop that ONLY has aprons. I cannot tell you how many ideas I had floating around in my mind... not to mention they are also a screen printing shop. No joke. Anyway, on our way back I hit a hidden curb and took a pretty nasty fall. I scraped up my knee pretty bad and tore a hole in my favorite jeans. I was bummed, but I got up and rode the bike home thinking I was ok. Today, it was a different story. My knee is extremely swollen and I can barely walk. I felt like it was a bad omen of some sort, but that seems to be the extent of my complaints. Everything else is pretty magical.
I am a little homesick, and I definitely wish some people could be here with me, but this seems like home a little more every day. Pictures coming soon, the sunrise is beautiful... zya, mata ne!
05 January 2008
I've also been on the hunt for something quintessentially American to give to my host family in what they call the art of "omiyage." So far all I have are a couple of Octane shirts for the kids, but I want to get something nice for the parents, too. Maybe something Coca-Cola? I suddenly feel like all of the "Atlanta Peach" stuff at the airport might be valuable. A Coca-Cola coffee mug, maybe? Wait, most of the canned coffee that the Katsuhide's are trying to compete with are owned by Coke. Great!
I cannot wait for my first cup at Honey. I cannot wait for the streets to be familiar. And I definitely cannot wait for quality television programming, like this: