Cafe Cereza was a home away from home when I lived in Japan. Though I was working a lot, I did visit some shops to get a feel for Japanese style coffee. I had some mixed experiences and while I originally created this website while I was there living there, it slowly faded into non-existence. That was before my good friend Nathan started raving about this place called Cereza he had found in the Osu district of Nagoya. He had taken me to some good spots with great food, but this one, he said, was different. It was unlike anything he had ever been to in Japan. He literally talked about it for weeks on end. Finally, I joined him. At the end, I was sad that I hadn’t listened to him sooner.
Cereza is on a side street in an unassuming building that literally hundreds of people pass by everyday without batting an eye. Sucks for them. When you enter, you aren’t sure if you are entering a bar or a lounge. But then you realize, it is a coffee bar. It is unbelievably classy, decorated in the most professional manner, and designed with an unparalleed sense of style and sophistication. Each chair is individually lit at the bar to give an old “noir” feel to your experience. Individual spots are treated as its own little space in which you and either Mr. Ito or Manami will have an incredibly engaging experience. The air in the place is probably the most interesting aspect. It looks as though the room is filled with an acrid smoke. In reality, it is a fine vapor that keeps the place warm, inviting, and refreshing, far from sweltering or dingy. The whole atmosphere of the shop just feels mysterious, as if you are a VIP or in a movie. It sounds like I am decribing a million different things at once, and it is all that and more. Somehow Masahiro has made it all flow together to create a totally unique space.
The most enticing aspect of Cereza and the real thing that brought for my first visit was the promise of Kobe Cheesecake. Yeah yeah, every Japanophile knows all about Kobe blah blah blah. Go to Kobe, then we will talk. Anyway, personal peeves aside, Cereza ships in Kobe milk products to create an incredibly rich, satisfying, and amazingly delicious cheesecake that is as thick as cream cheese but is sweet and smooth like a fine custard. It is topped with high quality honey and a sprinkle of fresh black pepper. When I was served, I looked at the miniscule 3″ by 1″ by 1″ slab and thought, “I paid 300 yen for this? I hope its good.” Ten minutes later, I asked for another. This was the only thing I ordered from Cereza. We tried some other things, but this piece really stood out for me as a testament to the high level of quality and commitment Masahiro is willing to put into his business.
As for the coffee, as a disclaimer, I am not a huge fan of what some in the industry consider “Japanese style” coffee. I like it a lot, but it is not my favorite. It is very light, tea-like, and tasty. But I am biased from my prior coffee experience and set in my personal tastes. Sometimes I like this style, but it really depends. Cereza has a pretty exotic coffee selection and though I was ready to dive in, the price and the language barrier prevented me from getting over myself and just trying one from the menu. While Masahiro and I chatted about the different coffees, I missed nuances and became discouraged in the complex descriptions. In conclusion, I missed out. My friend tried some, at about 900 yen a cup ($10), and while I remember it tasting great, it didn’t “wow” me. In reality, price doesn’t matter a whole lot because you pay for an experience. While I speak of baristas in America treating coffee and the process as sacred, saying so would be an understatement for Cereza. It was, literally, a 10 minute long ritual of heating, dosing, hand grinding, pouring, waiting, checking, and finally serving the cup of coffee. It evolved into an experience like none other. Sure, one could call it “smoke and mirrors” or dull it down to “entertainment,” but it was a wonderful process to see. I will spare you an analysis of how “the Japanese” treat the art of food preparation (I would be wrong anyway), but it was something to behold.
The man who runs the Cereza, Mr. Masahiro Ito and his wonderful assistant Manami are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. They love what they do and the people they work with. They had regulars, new comers, and foreigners like us on a daily basis. They treated us like family. Manami and I would practice conversation together and Masahiro was always smiling and serving us little extras. In fact, Nathan became friends with them outside of work. We visited Masahiro on his birthday and were there to see him blow out his candles. There was this seemless transition from professional to friend during that hour; I realized Masahiro was our friend whether he was serving us or giving us a piece of his birthday cake. Somehow, he always kept an aura of professionalism and mystery completely in balance with a relaxed and wonderful attitude. On one of my last days in Nagoya, Masahiro and Manami suprised me with a number of incredible gifts that I have displayed throughout my home (I am now an Osu M.C. watch out). I was someone they barely knew and they were so kind. They never made me feel like a stranger or a “foreigner,” I was a friend who wanted to come see them for some coffee.
Cereza was a surreal experience in terms of coffee. It was like nothing I had ever had or will probably ever have again. If you are in Nagoya, stop in and enjoy the company and wonderful quality of service. It is something to behold. I regret that I was not there enough. お世話になってありがとうございます、正弘さん,真奈美ちゃん。
カフェ セレーサ/ Cafe Cereza