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An old-school cafe in the back streets of Ginza is more than a sum of its parts

Words by Paul Geshos

You don’t come here for coffee quality, you come for coffee experience. It’s this old traditional cafe – dimly lit, with timber walls and smoked-stained ceilings, and just two guys working behind the bar serving coffee that’s been stockpiled since the 70s.

The baristas don’t do banter. They don’t want to talk to you. You have to respect that and be polite and not push them too much about what they’re doing because they don’t want to reveal their secrets. You buy an espresso and it’s probably ten or twelve bucks. Les cigarettes are de rigueur.

I’d take up smoking at L’ambre. Maybe just for that day.

The cafe is in the back streets of Ginza, Tokyo. The place doesn’t look like it’s changed in 50 years. You walk past these sacks of coffee and look on the menu board. They’ve got these single origin coffee beans from Mexico, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kenya – all vintage.

As to whether drinking vintage coffee is a good idea, well, I don’t think coffee will ever spoil to the point where it will make you sick or have rancid flavours. But in my opinion it should be drunk within a year of harvest.

Think of coffee like a fruit. The seed of a coffee bean still has a living embryo in it. And over that year after harvest, it slowly dies. And all the vibrancy and acidity – all those nice sweet flavours – tends to taper off through the year. It needs to be transported and stored well. And then you have this place where the coffee is probably 50 years old.

I don’t think I could even replicate what they do here. L’ambre were using single origin coffee beans before specialty coffee even became a thing.

Enjoyed this extract? The whole story will be available in glorious print, on all good bookshelves and via our store from October 

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