Imagine going into an espresso bar, as I did in Tokyo, ordering a single shot, and being told that it’s not on offer. The counter at No. 8 Bear Pond may feature the shiniest, spiffiest, newest La Marzocco, as well as a Rube Goldberg–esque water-filtration system, but the menu, which lists lattes and Americanos, makes no mention of espresso or cappuccino.
“My boss won’t let me make espressos,” says the barista. “I need a year more, maybe two, before he’s ready to let customers drink my shots undiluted by milk. And I’ll need another whole year of practice after that if I want to be able to froth milk for cappuccinos.”
Only after 18 years as a barista in New York did his boss, the cafe’s owner, feel qualified to return home to show off his coffee-making skills. Now, at Bear Pond’s main branch, he stops making espressos at an early hour each day, claiming that the spike on the power grid after that time precludes drawing the voltage required for optimal pressure.
Such obsessive—some might say insane—pursuit of perfection, in coffee and cuisine, clothes and comforts, isn’t unusual in Japan: In a tiny tapas place in Kyoto, while drinking perfectly poured cañas—small draft beers—and eating deep-fried croquetas de jamón, I reach for a napkin, which turns out to be just a thin sheet of waxy paper that doesn’t so much absorb oil as push it toward another, cleaner, part of my hand.