The moment I tasted the syrupy “angel stain” Bear Pond espresso, my life forever changed. I started laughing, in total disbelief, in total shock. An espresso that tastes like pure chocolate. How can this be so silky, so syrupy? An espresso like no other. May I dare say, the best espresso ever.
Of course, the journey starts the day before. I took the train for what must have been at least one hour, inclusively of the time it took getting lost in Shimo-Kitazawa. I had read that the owner does not make espresso after 1pm, so I arrived around 12:30pm. The person in front of me orders the 10th espresso of the day, and a small sign saying “angel stain is sold out for today” is placed in front of me. I could not believe it. I came all the way from North America and you only make 10 espressos a day, for apparently absolutely no reason? But you make lattes, which are of course made of espresso. Are you serious? But I took the train for half an hour and a flight for 18 hours… This must be some hipster café who roasts very dark and does not understand that coffee is all about the Tim Wendelboe, Nordic-style light roast. No wonder this shop has some bad reviews.
Determined of course to arrive the next day when the shop opens at 11:15 am, I opted in the meantime for a “poke” (cloth filter) and a “dirty” (similar to a latte). The poke was an Ethiopian (washed). I think it gets it right: it keeps the sublte and interesting flavors of Ethiopian coffees, but it also has a sweetness that most North-American roasters do not have, making the coffee very pleasant. I could tell that tomorrow would be special. Both coffees were phenomenal. There is no way I was going to miss the angel stain tomorrow. (I recently noticed that they do have a "regular" espresso at 400円 that is available at all times, but it is very different from the 690円 angel stain. You have to try the angel stain. The espresso is longer, not as thick, not as complex and not as delicious.)
The next day, I ordered my angel stain, and then another one. I will forever remember the feeling of disbelief I had. A taste I had never imagined. An espresso to end all espresso. An espresso so short it is only one sip, one "shot". An owner with his own rules, that have the effect of reducing his profit and making some customers angry. An owner who refused to take a picture with me outside the shop because he “did not wear the right t-shirt that day”. I was told the shop opens at 11:15am, my friend was told it opens at 11:00, another blog reports that it opens at 10:45 and that only 5 espressos maximum are served, while another claims it is 15. What was it about Bear Pond that I did not compute, that I did not understand?
Bear Pond is what Tokyo and Life are all about. Bear Pond is life. Life can be frustrating and, in the end, it is about those special moment that took your breath away.
Katsu Tanaka’s own words, from an interview in Drift magazine: “Bears don’t care about people. They don’t care about society’s rules. They are hungry, and then they eat. They laugh when they should be laughing. When they want to play, they play. They are very honest. They communicate with nature. Humans think too much. We calculate too much. In society, it’s rules, rules, rules. I believe everyone has a talent, and everyone was born for something. But the important thing is to find your talent. Most people just adjust to the rules of society and never find it.”
Everyone knows that coffee is a drug. Yet, only Bear Pond treats coffee like a drug. It is called "BPE", like other drugs with a three-letter designation. Bear Pond is the drug dealer. What are drug dealers like? Unreliable, frustrating, and they have their own set of irrational rules and their rules change without notice, for no reason. This is the experience that Bear Pond offers and this is why Bear Pond represents the best of Tokyo. A meta-experience, an experience that plays on all levels, that reflects upon itself. It is not that Streamer Espresso will never be able to make an espresso as good as BPE. It is that Bear Pond offers something unique in the world, by treating coffee like a drug. It is an experience.
In a sea of independent roasters and cafés who all do the same thing, Bear Pond stands alone, against all trends. In the most unlikely place, the most unlikely person who makes the world’s best espresso. Why conform, why try to please everybody, why make yourself accessible on the first encounter?
I will always remember Bear Pond, because it showed me that things can be different if you are willing to break away from conventional thinking, if you have the courage to be yourself, pursue something of value, something that is an extension of yourself, something truly unique.
One day, BPE may disappear from the streets. If and when it does, there may never be another shot like it.
Address: 2-36-12 Kitazawa Setagaya-ku Tokyo
The only true voyage of discovery would be not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes.
Matsukawa (revisited), Art Museums in Tokyo, Advanced Japanese Manners, Hakone, home cooking.
Making Restaurant Reservations in Tokyo
Cafe de l'Ambre
Sushi Sho Masa
Bear Pond Espresso
Park Hotel Tokyo
New Year in Kyoto
Quotes from Chefs
Quotes from Farmers
Quote from Zen monks
Kwon Sook Soo
Yau Yuen Siu Tsui