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O Fim duma Viagem

Café Hunting

JAPAN | Friday, 19 February 2016 | Views [366]

We had a four day weekend starting on Thursday, which probably would have made for a decent reason to leave Osaka and go somewhere. Except that I didn't really want to leave, and I did have a lot of work to get done. So I just stayed in the vicinity and tried to find a good coffee shop to get work done. The weather was not cooperating with that goal, so Thursday I just walked outside and enjoyed the springlike weather. Then on Friday I went to Umeda and checked out several potential work spaces.

The weather was still warm and nice, so when I emerged from the station and saw a sign for a top-floor terrace, I remembered that rooftop I'd gone the first day, and wanted to go back. There was just a minor problem, I wasn't entirely sure where that was. So to get to the nice top floor, I had to spend a lot of time in mall buildings and on escalators wandering around until I found something that I recognised. At last, I made it to the top.

In the interest of finally doing what I'd set out to do, I started evaluating the rooftop as a workspace. As a very nice start, it was free, and I could stay there however long I wanted. However, there was no coffee, so it was not a complete win.

The ambiance was pleasant. There was nice, soft music playing, and not too many people. Somewhat surprisingly, when I pulled out my tablet I discovered there was WiFi, since it had the same free city WiFi the airport had. The security guard might look at me strangely, but I could probably use my laptop there if I wanted.

The most appealing aspect was also it's greatest disadvantage. It was outside. Sure, that was nice right now, but for the rest of February and most of march that probably wouldn't be true. Besides, even if it was warm, there were other weather concerns. Like rain and wind. Especially wind. If I was trying to deal with loose sheets of paper, (the kind I get all the time in Japanese) it would only take one strong gust for me to lose that sheet forever.

So, although it was a nice place to sit and relax, it probably wasn't a good space to count on getting work done. After making that conclusion, I moved on.

I didn't make it very far. Just inside the building was a Tully’s that I decided to check out.

Basically, think of an independent film set in a coffee shop chain but, for various reasons, it can’t be called Starbucks. Unfortunately, the show producer or director or setting creator or whoever is responsible for this sort of thing isn’t feeling terribly creative, so they basically just take Starbucks and change the name and color scheme. Now imagine that you're a background character in said film, and you'll know how I felt on Friday.

There's really not that much more I can say about Tully's. The coffee was probably tastier than at Starbucks, and the menu was almost entirely in Japanese, but other than that… drink sizes were tall, grande, and enorme, so I like to imagine that “grande” was pronounced like a French word and not an Italian one. (Pop quiz: you’re in a Starbucks in France, and they ask you want size you want. Do you order a grand(e), a grandé, or a venti/tall just so you can avoid this problem?) I got a grande soy almond latte, or something like that, and was delighted by the taste. I don’t think I’d had a coffee that good since leaving Carthage. It was a nice enough place, but ultimately, I ran into the problem that it was too much like Starbucks. I don’t have anything against Starbucks. I’ll drink their coffee if it’s the only place that I know that I can get a decent latte, and I’m perfectly fine killing time in one. If someone says that they like Starbucks, I won’t judge them. It’s just that I tend to prefer other coffee shops to Starbucks. Part of this is a taste factor, and the rest has to do with the environment.

A Starbucks is like a traditional “living room.” It’s the place that you bring the guests and sit formally in fancy chairs and try to pretend that the rest of the house is really the same. It’s the place you keep the grand piano and the portrait of your grandfather so that you can show off.* It’s the place that I go to get a coffee when I know that I’m likely to fall asleep without that. It’s not a place I go to spend hours.

I finished my coffee and left, still searching for that place.

I didn’t have any specific location in mind, and the weather was nice, so I just started walking. And walking. And every time I’d see a cafe that looked promising, I’d consider whether I really wanted to spend more time inside on a day like this, or if I just wanted to keep walking. And invariably, the latter won out.

I walked past a book cafe with free wifi. With more temperamental weather, that seemed like the kind of place I would have gladly gone and spent hours. But I came up with some kind of excuse and walked on. I took note of the name, but walked on.

One of the things that impressed me was how quickly Umeda went from being bustling malls to quiet residential areas. There really did not seem to be much of an in-between. I started walking away from the shops and the people, and very quickly felt like I was in Suita. The vending machines were similarly priced, (bear in mind that, since vending machines can be owned and stocked by individuals, a lot of time the prices are whatever the owner thinks they can get away with. Right outside a mall, they can get away with a lot) the restaurants seemed to be mom and pop restaurants, (in Japanese, grandpa and grandma restaurants) and the vast majority of buildings became apartments. I even saw real estate agencies, which was not something I’d seen on previous trips.

I wasn’t walking to anything specific. Rather, I was wandering around a major city just to explore and see what I did find. And it was a really nice feeling.

Flowers outside a company

Art and construction

When I started getting hungry and tired, I used Google Maps to direct me back to Hoshino. It wasn’t quite as easy as that, since no matter which way I was facing, Google would always tell me I was heading in the wrong direction. Which resulted in a lot of U-turns and frustration. By the time I showed up at Hoshino, I had very high expectations for the food they served.

And amazingly? I still thought the food was really good. This time, I was paying a bit more attention to it, so I could tell you that the dressing that made the salad so incredible was a cheese dressing. And the lasagna had an egg in it, which, perhaps because the lasagna was cooked for longer than it should have been (it was kind of burnt along the edges) ended up being very, very hard. I’ve not had an egg fried as hard as I would like it that I haven’t cooked myself in ages. And this time I could appreciate the pancakes. The first time I’d scraped off the butter, but they really were better if you added that and the syrup. It sounds weird when I describe it that way, but because the pancakes are so thick and not themselves sweetened, it does make for a really good combination.

It’s not the kind of place I could go take out my computer and work for hours. But it is definitely the kind of place I could return to for a meal. And I suspect I will. One of of these days I might even try their coffee.


* I don’t actually know anyone who has a living room like this.


Tags: cafes, coffee, flowers, pancakes, roofs, walking

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