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Café Michi

John

John

My name’s John, and I live with my wife, Miho, in Yamagata City. Originally from Oregon, USA, I am dedicated to revealing the natural and cultural wonders of my new home in Yamagata to overseas visitors. You can follow my Tohoku adventures at : www.tohokuwithlove.com.

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When you arrive at Café Michi, situated just south of Yamagata station, the first thing you notice is the building itself.

It’s got this deep, arching roof that comes to two peaks lengthwise and kind of makes you think of a giant Phoenician ship from antiquity dragged ashore and dropped next to a little vegetable market.

The second thing you’ll notice about the place is the undeniable enthusiasm you’ll be greeted with from the proprietor of the shop, Tanaka-san.

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You’ll see all walks of life in Michi with plenty of foreigners (be they tourists or residents) rubbing elbows with the locals who’ve lived their whole life in Yamagata.

Tanaka-san sees his establishment as a crossroads for people from all over the world. His zeal for building a community around coffee is matched only by his ardor for the art of coffee brewing itself.

See, coffee culture is about as cosmopolitan as it gets, from the origin of the bean to the method in which it is brewed.

As Tanaka-san explained to me one day, you might siphon-brew (the English method) one type of coffee or French-press another.

There’s brilliant Italian expresso and wonderful, heavy Turkish coffee as well. And that’s not even getting to cold brew (he’s got that too!)

You’ll see all walks of life in Michi with plenty of foreigners (be they tourists or residents) rubbing elbows with the locals who’ve lived their whole life in Yamagata.

Tanaka-san sees his establishment as a crossroads for people from all over the world. His zeal for building a community around coffee is matched only by his ardor for the art of coffee brewing itself.

See, coffee culture is about as cosmopolitan as it gets, from the origin of the bean to the method in which it is brewed.

As Tanaka-san explained to me one day, you might siphon-brew (the English method) one type of coffee or French-press another. There’s brilliant Italian expresso and wonderful, heavy Turkish coffee as well. And that’s not even getting to cold brew (he’s got that too!)

道 (Michi), means way, path, or road, and in some ways represents this idea of people coming together from far off lands or just from down the street, all to enjoy a hot cup of brew.

It turns out the café building itself is not a replica of a boat, as I thought, but a traditional Indonesian house of the Toraja people.

Inside you can find a scale model of one of these houses on display.

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Model of a traditional Indonesian home that the architecture of Michi Café was inspired by.

Michi in fact has a long, historic relationship with Indonesia, starting in 1974 when Tanaka-san and his father designed and built the café.

According to Tanaka-san, after the Pacific War, many of the coffee plantations in Indonesia were burned and destroyed. Key Coffee, a Japanese company founded in the early twentieth century, provided material support to redevelop the industry there, and in doing so founded a lasting business relationship with the growers that proved to be very successful.

These particular beans had been enjoyed for ages by royalty and were previously considered lost prior to their resurrection in part by Key Coffee.

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The president of Key Coffee at the time was a good friend of Tanaka-san’s father and the idea of a café showcasing these maboroshi (幻), or “dream” beans, was born. The first batch of Toarco Toraja-grown beans made their Japanese debut at none other than Michi Café.

Ten years after opening, Tanaka-san’s father lost his sight in an accident, so Tanaka-san took over the establishment.
And he’s been brewing excellent coffee for the thirty-five years since.

On a typical evening, you might find yourself chatting up a student from the art college nearby, racking your brain over a game of Igo (囲碁), or if it’s a Thursday night, enjoying a live-stream DJ performance from Star Stream Radio.

He also hosts other themed nights, such as game nights, magic nights, live-painting nights; the list goes on.

Just by taking a seat at the bar next to a stranger, I’ve met so many interesting people here. And with coffee comes that certain head-buzz that inspires all kinds of strange and exciting new conversations.

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Of course this is a kissaten, and no good kissaten wouldn’t be without a full menu of delectable eats and treats.
Here, Café Michi does not disappoint: the pastas and curries are as tasty as they are filling, the desserts are outrageous, and the menu, always changing.

Tanaka-san told me he’s perpetually working on something knew and boasted that Michi had their crazy Japanese dessert pancake game going way before it became a standard on menus across the land (and he had the newspaper clipping to prove it!)

Cafe Michi is a great little spot to come in from the cold and make a friend. I highly recommend taking a seat at the bar; Tanaka-san will do the rest.

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