Katsuji Daibō & Daibō Coffee

It wasn’t until 1975 when now acclaimed barista Katsuji Daibō opened Daibō Coffee in the Omotesando District of Tokyo. Though the coffee shop is no longer standing, it was home to a great influence in coffee culture as we know it. Known as one of the most influential figures in today’s coffee culture, Daibō unintentionally helped kick off the third wave with his slow and steady Nel Drip Coffee. With a hammered nosed spout kettle for the most delicate of drips and his reusable cotton-based filters, he would create a service and a flavor unique to all others. A new drip style of making coffee along with roasting beans in front of customers in a place unique for its boarded up windows, to keep the light out and the smell in.

Approaching by a dark, narrow staircase, customers pushed back the heavy door to the establishment and were greeted by seasonal flower arrangements, the only splash of color in an otherwise dark interior. Inside was a peaceful refuge from the roar of the city. Often the only sound was a jazz record playing quietly in the background, and the entire space was permeated by the deep aroma of coffee.

Daibō Katsuji roasts every last batch of coffee himself in a hand-cranked roaster set over a gas burner. After 30 minutes of roasting, he empties the beans onto a wide, shallow basket and fans them the same way a sushi master fans a batch of steamed rice. Then he does his final inspection, discarding less-than-perfect beans before bringing the coffee back to the bar for grinding and filtering.

Daibō stood quietly behind the counter, nearly statuesque, carefully preparing each cup using his distinctive hand-drip method. He doesn’t pour in a thin stream, but in tiny drops like a leaky faucet, raising and lowering the filter, rolling his wrist to tilt the grains, always moving the slow drip in concentric circles. It takes nearly 5 minutes for the full cup to filter. He serves the coffee in delicate porcelain cups heated with hot water and dried just before serving.

Whether it’s the brooding intensity of a cup from Colombia, or the almost wine-like brightness of the fruit from Kenya. By the time you finish, your body will be buzzing with caffeine and your head swimming in all the tiny details that made it possible. This is not just a deeply delicious cup of coffee, but an expression of an entire philosophy.

Daibō closed its doors for good in December 2013 after 38 years in business following Daibō’s landlord deciding to knock down the building for redevelopment.


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