CHAPTER 4
Masters of Their Universes
Performing Perfection

I am successful in my café if my customers know that every
cup of coffee I make will be made by my hand with my
kodawari. This will make them comfortable here. My feet
hurt, but I will never sit down if there is a customer in the
shop; I have to serve people.

— Café master, Kyoto, April 2006

The master looks around to be sure no customer is present and lifts his pant leg to the knee. The purplish web of bulging varicose veins speaks his pain. Why this café owner and coffee connoisseur reveals his suffering to me is not to make me feel sorry for him or see him as a hero, but rather to prove that he does the job right, in his terms. Not every good master has his measure of success, and he would prefer not to have such wounds incurred in service to it. Kodawari, the desired quality of focus and perfection-seeking, is a constant goal for makers of coffee—and fine craftsmen in any art in Japan. What he calls his kodawari is dedication to his work, comprising service, skill in making coffee, and an uncompromising sense of the importance of what he does.

Perfection is in the person, not in the cup: the “master” is an embodiment of the desire for the ultimate coffee experience. And the key in such specialty shops is this person for whom the English word master—in Japanese, maasutaa—is used. Sensei, the word for “teacher,” is customarily used in traditional crafts and arts, as well as in schools, to mean “the person who has gone before” in experience and learning. But in Japan a new word was needed to describe the owner of a café who is responsible for everything the shop is and what he provides to a customer, so different, and so constantly evolving, is coffee practice.

-66-

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