Food & Drink

Legendary Japanese Barista Launches Edible Espresso

There are coffee-flavored candy bars in supermarkets. But the new coffeedust bar is different. Think this way: there are hot chocolate drinks and chocolate bars, and there are espresso and coffeedust bars. The creator of the edible coffee bars is Katsuyuki Tanaka, a legendary barista and the owner of Bear Pond Espresso in Tokyo.

His coffeedust bar brand EXPERIENCE is made only with the same ingredients as in his espresso: coffee beans, water, milk and a bit of sugar; no cacao beans are used.

Five years ago, an American boutique hotel chain approached him to become a business partner and operate a unique café concept throughout its locations together. He accepted the invitation and discussed many “wild and exciting ideas”. Unfortunately, the project was wiped out by Covid-19.

What remained, however, was the idea of edible coffee. “Through the project, I met numerous new people who did not know the taste of my coffee. I got frustrated that I could not let them taste my cup on the spot. So I decided to make portable, solid coffee bars that I could take out of my pocket like business cards and let them taste my style.”

Inside the retro-chic wrapping paper is a thin, dark rectangle that resembles chocolate. In your mouth, the texture is uniquely sandy and a smoky, deep espresso taste follows.

“Some people do not like the coarse texture, because we all are so used to smooth, silky chocolate bars. But that is the point of my coffeedust bar,” says Tanaka. “If everyone likes the taste, it means it is just an average product. I want to create something new and memorable for only a handful of people. These are the people who are curious and open to new experiences. They try to identify what they are tasting and the experience becomes familiar in their minds. Now they want to tell everyone to try it.”

Provoking Changes In The World Of Coffee

Tanaka calls this type of anti-mainstream effort “a ripple” and believes that many ripples will ultimately create a big wave to change the paradigm.

By “wave” he means the movement of the coffee industry. “The First Wave was commodity coffee that started around the 1960s and the Second Wave was the Starbucks

-style specialty coffee. Now we are in the more artisan-minded Third Wave and what is next? Nobody knows because each wave arrived as a result of many small ripples merged into one. These ripples were always started by forward-minded individuals in the industry who pursued a better coffee culture. I hope that my coffeedust bars will create one of those ripples.”.

Tanaka had already initiated a ripple effect when he opened his coffee shop in Tokyo. “It was before the arrival of the Third Wave movement in Japan and many people did not like my espresso at all,” he says. Simultaneously though, he generated cult followers and eventually, his Bear Pond Expresso became known as having spearheaded the modern coffee culture in Japan. (He was also featured in the 2014 documentary A Film About Coffee).

His coffeedust bars are entirely handmade by himself from the scratch and are currently available at his coffee shop (at 800 yen /$6.25 per bar). “For the best quality, when I start a batch, I post on Instagram when bars are going to be available.” They usually sell out within an hour.

The bar can be a good alternative to a cup of coffee or a chocolate bar with a kick. Each dustbar contains 50mg of caffeine, which is about a half of regular cup of coffee, but the level of caffeine, as well as the flavor, is customizable by using different types of coffee beans, according to Tanaka.

Despite potential commercial opportunities, he decided not to get a patent for his coffeedust bar. “I am fine with it because my goal is to keep creating ripples in the coffee industry,” he says. “I don’t need more money than I can spend before I die. I am not rich, but I have never thought about how much money I have in my bank account all my life. The truth is, money follows somehow when you are having fun with what you do,” 65 years-old Tanaka smiles.

He used to work for a top advertising agency in Japan and moved to the U.S. to study communication at Arizona State University. After graduation, he joined FedEx

in New York as an executive.

While living a hectic life, Tanaka fell in love with coffee as he witnessed the dynamically changing coffee scenes in the city with the arrival of the Third Wave movement. He started to study coffee on weekends and finally received a barista certification by Counter Culture Coffee with an espresso tamper that was given only to several outstanding professionals in the world.

One of his friends in the industry told him, “I wish I could go to Japan and start a café and let people know what the Third Wave coffee could offer, but I can’t. You should do that.” And he did. He opened Bear Pond Espresso in Shimokitazawa, a cool downtown area in Tokyo, in 2009.

To spread his new ripple, Tanaka is planning to caravan throughout Japan with his wife and a dog and promote his bars. “We will visit cafés, taste their coffee and on the way out, give my dust bars to the owners. Hopefully, they will get a sense that the next wave of coffee is being formed from the grassroots right this moment and they can join the movement by creating tiny new ripples as I do.”

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