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When the story appeared, his friends called him. “Hey, man, you’re famous!” And in his favorite café the owner said, “Now it’s time to think about your future. Take a barista course with Counter Culture Coffee! You’ll always still be able to send packages around the world.” Katsu flew to North Carolina for the final examination. In the morning he disassembled an espresso machine and brewed cappuccino. In the afternoon he answered 95 out of 100 professional questions correctly and with that became a master barista. Back in New York, Katsu was faced with an existential decision: to remain a package manager or change his life and cultivate the Japanese market for Counter Culture Coffee? With his wife he went back to his hometown of Tokyo, which he hadn’t seen in twenty years. He slept on his parents-in-law’s spare bed, struggled through financially somehow, and finally opened Bear Pond Espresso in 2009. The tiny café was perfectly suited to trendy Shimokitazawa, a district with many shops and restaurants in the center of Tokyo. Yet the hipsters there had never seen a coffee roaster in their lives. Then along came master barista Katsu, who served them lattes in bowls. They liked it, and they also got used to the fact that Katsu didn’t wipe away the coffee that dripped down from the rim of the small demitasse. “Espresso is a gift from heaven and the genesis of a cup of this beverage is a unique process, an unrepeatable experience, something heavenly,” he proclaims. “If angelic stains occur as part of that, they should remain as they are.” As Katsu has remained a marketer through and through, he has declared his “angelic stains” to be a USP. He sells his espresso under the name Angel Stain. Another product is called Dirt: a canning jar with cold milk into which an espresso is poured. Katsu chose the name Bear Pond as a memento of his time in America. Bear Pond is a region in New York State, and the people there live according to their own rules — for example, they don’t leave any trash lying around, because otherwise it attracts bears. “Rules ensure stability,” says Katsu, “just as when making a perfect espresso! And then there’s the animal connection. Because humans are like animals. We must adapt ourselves to nature, not the other way round. If we don’t do that, we will perish. Nature is as indifferent to us as it is to the espresso machine.” And because no one understands this machine like he does, there is only one barista in Bear Pond Espresso: Katsu Tanaka. Every morning, he says, he reorients himself to his Italian-made La Marzocco. He ensures that the water pressure, the cycle time, the roasting temperature and the fineness of the grind are in alignment and that his machine is unfailingly spick and span before he opens his shop. Because it is, as he says, the mirror of his soul, and he keeps a handwritten mechanical journal about it in which he records even the weather outside and his adjustments in meticulous detail. Because everything is connected. Everything affects the espresso. Although guests often wait for hours to manage to grab a seat in Bear Pond Espresso, the master barista responds only gruffly and curtly if they want to learn more about preparation and coffee varieties. In such cases, Katsu can stoop to giving no more than “emergency advice”. He does not at all want to be seen as a teacher behind an espresso machine but rather as a conjurer who channels energies. He hasn’t forgotten the words of his grandfather, a master swordsman: “A blade cuts, yet a piece of paper can do the same if you direct its energies properly!” Having finally produced a perfect, stained cup of espresso, Katsu becomes a sentimental philosopher: “We are born, try to survive in order to finally die. A straightforward concept, but with a catch: If we do not adapt, we are going to be gone faster than the dinosaurs.” That is why quarrels with other people are a waste of energy for him and love is always the better choice. The love of people, the love of coffee — but only until one o’clock in the afternoon. And also just 20 cups at a time. Because only at a rate of 20 cups a day and only until one o’clock can he guarantee that all customers will receive an equally high-quality espresso, he says. His customers, especially those at the end of the line, do not always understand this. But only he understands his espresso machine. W 161


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