Boutique brewing methods and original menu items at a number of Japan’s oldest coffee shops have been garnering interest from baristas in the U.S. Angelus, located in Tokyo’s Asakusa district and known for its cold-brewed coffee, is one of them. Whenever I’m nearby I stop in to enjoy a cup along with their famous cake. Mitsuyoshi Sawada tells us more.
Our founder ran a kimono shop nearby, and opened Angelus in order to have a place where he could relax and talk with his regular clients.
He was very knowledgeable about the arts; writers, painters, and other literati made up a large part of our early customer base. In fact a number of the paintings on our walls are by artists who were then, or later went on to become, quite famous in Japan.
The first owner’s wife was Christian, so they named the shop after the Angelus bell that’s rung at many churches to signal devotional prayers. Overall, it was designed with something like a European mountain lodge or village church in mind.
I began working here part-time when I was in high school, and here I am still today. I went to college, left before graduating, and traveled abroad to learn how to cook and make pastries. I also studied coffee brewing and coffee-house culture; for a time I was obsessed with it. I learned that removing the so-called “silver skin”―the thin innermost layer of the coffee bean, what roasters call chaff―improves the flavor immensely.
That was all back in the early postwar years. We were driven to brew the best coffee we possibly could, with the limited resources available to us. With coffee or cake, let’s face it, the bottom line is the quality of the ingredients. We keep that same focus today.
Up until about 25 years ago we served a full restaurant menu on the third floor. With that, too, we were absorbed in craft―we’d spend five days just to prepare a demi-glace sauce! Animator Osamu Tezuka was among our many famous regulars. While we no longer serve full meals, we’ve continued our cake baking since 1947 or so.
The Angelus cake roll came about because we wanted to share the French yule-log cake tradition with children here.
We make our coffee by the cold-brew method, known here in Japan as Dutch style. One of our coffee drinks is something called Ume Dutch, an idea I got from my own custom of taking umeshu apricot liqueur with tea. Popularized by author Shotaro Ikenami, this drink continues to be one of our bestsellers. After drinking about half of the coffee over ice, add the liqueur, and finish by eating the sweet apricot.