Lion Miura is 4 years old. He turned 4 on April 10. As far as I know, most 4-year-olds get things like toy dinosaurs, or building blocks, or perhaps a Polly Pocket for their birthdays. But Lion, son of Daisuke and Tomoyo Miura, got a cafe. And not just any cafe, but Cafe de Lion, which opened in honor of the lad's birthday last month in Queen Anne.
A coffee place setting at Cafe de Lion.
Lion's mom, Tomoyo, studied pastry making in Paris, and now designs pastries so beautiful that it would almost be a crime to eat them (if only they didn't look so tasty). Tomoyo's husband, Daisuke, manages the cafe and is in charge of all things coffee. He tells me that he has only recently been trained in making espresso, but that he began "acting like a barista" when he was 12, and has been studying coffee ever since. I wasn't exactly sure what "acting like a barista" meant, until he explained.
As a boy growing up in Japan, Daisuke dreamed of having his own coffee business. He would spend time at the neighborhood coffee shop, where methods like traditional Toddy brewing and vacuum-pot preparations were used; and because he was both so young and so interested, the owner of the shop would teach him how to use the brewing equipment if there were no customers. He had never been a barista before opening Cafe de Lion, though, so ask him how long he's been working in coffee, and his answer will be "about a month."
While he is telling me these things, I watch him prepare a siphon of Ethiopian coffee, roasted by Gillies Coffee Company in New York. It seems that most cafes in the Seattle area use coffee from local roasters, so I find his choice to bring coffee all the way from New York intriguing, and I ask about it. His reason turns out to be one of the most thought-provoking reasons I've heard in a while.
At left, a siphon of Ethiopia brews, while a Cold Brew Tower works away to make Toddy on the far right.
Initially, when trying to select coffee for Cafe de Lion, Daisuke tried many local roasts. Most of them, he discovered, were too bright for his palate. Coffee here, he says, tends to be very sour. So he went looking for someone who roasted "In the Japanese style." Americans, Europeans, and Japanese have different palates, he states simply. In America, the food "is about impact." But in Japan, it is more "about the aftertaste." Sushi is his example: There is not much instant impact, but the aftertaste is so rich that you eat ginger to cleanse the flavor before eating more sushi. And in Japan, he says, coffee is thought of in a similar way. Instead of the vibrant, heavily aromatic coffees we strive for here in the Pacific Northwest, Daisuke said he wanted something gentle, with good aftertaste. They use Zoka's coffee for their espresso, but for all other brews, it's Gillies.
My coffee is ready, and he serves it to me in a little glass pitcher, placed on an embroidered coaster. A delicate cup and saucer are set in front of me, and an accompanying sample of candied orange dipped in chocolate. I ask if different coffees receive different accompaniments, and he points out that--while that would be great--Cafe de Lion is first and foremost a pastry cafe with coffee, not the other way around. (That is to say: The coffee is more an accompaniment for the chef's sample of the day.)
True to Daisuke's description, the coffee is drastically different from what I would expect of a Northwest-roasted Ethiopian coffee. There are no glinting citrus notes in the aroma, no pungent blueberry flavor in the first sip, no strong sense of wildness or caffe-abandon. But it is pleasant. Subtle. Very smooth, and rich without being decadent. The aftertaste does, in fact, open and linger without bitterness, featuring floral notes, ripe berry, and spice. (The candied orange balances it well with sweetness.)
Meanwhile, Daisuke and two customers have struck up a conversation in Japanese, and he has produced a beautiful, ornate little kettle with which he is making pour-over. The attention to detail, the friendliness of the owners, and the unhurried pace at Cafe de Lion are enough to draw me back. Though my Northwestern palate is sold on the local roasting profile, I deeply appreciate opportunities not only to try something different, but to converse and learn about the reasons behind the differences.
Hot, scented hand towel at Cafe de Lion: my one objection. They feel exquisite, but make everything you touch taste of gardenia.
Cafe de Lion is located in what was previously Cafe Bonjour's address, at 1629 Queen Anne Ave. N.