This was what I had initially typed for Bear Pond in my (upcoming!) Tokyo Coffee Trail post, but after spending practically the whole day trying to put all my thoughts into words, I decided to just heck it and give it a post of its' own.
Bear Pond has been on my coffee shop bucket list ever since I watched A Film About Coffee, in which it was featured. This is probably one of the most prominent espresso shops in Tokyo, with good reason. Here, you can always expect (and are most likely to receive) a good, solid cup of coffee, especially given the number of rules put in place to ensure consistency in every shot. For one, only one person is allowed to pull the shots in this tiny space - and that person is none other than Katsu Tanaka himself, owner of Bear Pond Espresso. Secondly, coffee is only available for a few hours a day - typically from about 10:30am (when the shop opens) to 2pm, which is when a daily flux in the power grid messes with the machine. It is also the time of the day when the shop gets too busy for Katsu to give each and every shot of espresso his 100%.
To be honest, I'm not sure how this third rule contributes to the consistency of every shot of espresso, but I'm thinking that the constant use of cameras in his presence may be distracting. Or the irresponsible use of flash photography. Whatever it is, photography seems to be strictly prohibited in Bear Pond. If you wish to snap a shot of your espresso (like I did), you'll have to go up to the counter lady to ask for permission to do so. I was kind of surprised when she gave me the go-ahead to take one, though. The service here is not exactly the friendliest, which is surprising given the typically good service found in Japan. I felt a tad uncomfortable sitting there sipping on my dirty espresso, reading the picture of dorian gray. Almost unwelcome. Based on reviews I've read though, I think it depends on the mood of Katsu and counter lady - basically, your luck. But that's not the main focus here, and don't let it be.
Now, this is. I'm still struggling to put this into words. This dirty espresso is basically a shot of espresso layered with some whole milk, followed by another shot of espresso. It felt like a delicate balance of flavours and textures. I've never had any coffee quite like it. In my first sip, I could already taste the notes of chocolate in the coffee. 80% espresso and 20% milk, to be exact. (According to Katsu here). Bold, dark and sweet. As the espresso and milk began to blend, the flavours became increasingly complex, eventually shifting to a 1:5 ratio of espresso to milk (basically, a reverse of the above). How precise; and how fascinating. The espresso was thick and viscous, making the milk feel more like a complement rather than a distraction to the taste and mouthfeel of the coffee. Very sexy indeed. This magic was over too soon. I wanted to have an espresso, but I had gone down on a Wednesday, and they did not sell their angel stain espresso on Wednesday. The disappointment was real.
I meant to go back sometime, but Shimokitazawa is not exactly one of the most convenient locations, and there was so much more of Tokyo to explore. But I promise, I will be back one day. Just not on a Wednesday.
Bear Pond Espresso
2-Chome-36-12, Kitazawa, Setagaya, Tokyo 155-0031
Nearest station: Shimokitazawa (take the North exit)