Personal indie travel guides

Personal indie travel guides
The Cream Of The Crop Coffee (left), one of the cafes featured in his guide book. Adrianna Tan (right) with a group of villagers in Bengal.

SINGAPORE - He loves coffee and Japan, so film-maker Pok Yue Weng decided to combine his twin interests to create a specific type of travel guide: one to cafes in Tokyo.

In October last year, he spent about $8,000 to publish Tokyo Cafe. The 97-page volume is filled with his photographs and write-ups on each of the 46 cafes featured, as well as their addresses and telephone numbers.

A coffee filter - imprinted with the name of the book and the printing label - is slipped into the middle of the book as a quirky touch.

It costs $18 and is available at Books Kinokuniya, BooksActually and a few cafes here such as The Marshmallow Tree in Telok Blangah and Maple & Market in Cassia Crescent.

Pok, 42, says he came up with the idea of the niche travel guide after noticing how coffee culture in Japan has changed over the last few years. He has travelled to Tokyo at least eight times over the last three years, as his wife used to study and work there. The couple do not have children.

"Just two years ago, the cafe scene in Tokyo was very unremarkable, with just Starbucks and a few other chain cafes. But then the number of independent cafes just exploded," he says.

Noting that the Japanese tend to emulate Western lifestyles, he says the cafe culture in Japan took off shortly after the "third wave coffee" movement - which emphasises high-quality coffee and appreciating it as an artisanal, hand-crafted foodstuff - hit the United States. The term was coined in 2002.

The idea of sourcing beans from different parts of the world and being in total control of the coffee, from bean to cup, soon caught on in Japan, says Pok.

And the Japanese quickly moved from being copycats to pack-leaders, he adds. "A lot of Japanese baristas are now winning international awards for their latte art. They are very creative and on top of their game."

While he collected bits and pieces of information on cafes throughout his trips, he did the bulk of his legwork on a two-week trip he took in February last year.

Based on others' recommendations and his own experiences, he shortlisted slightly more than 80 cafes to try.

"I drank 10 to 20 cups of coffee a day," he recalls. "I couldn't sleep that week, but I narrowed the list down to the 46 cafes that are in the book."

His criteria included the quality of the coffee, the effort put into creating the beverage and the ambience or theme of the cafes. In total, he spent about $2,000 on the coffees and travelling expenses.

While he cannot pick a favourite cafe from those listed in his book - they are all "different experiences", he says - his favourite cup of coffee was at Omotesando Koffee in Shibuya. The quality of beans used and the balance of flavours between the coffee and milk hit the sweet spot to create a really good cup of coffee, he explains.

Tokyo Cafe will be the first in what Pok plans to be a series of guides to the best cafes in various cities.

While he initially aimed to focus on Japanese cities, suggestions from friends have prompted him to expand his search. He now wants to include places such as Bangkok and Seoul as well.

Next up is a guide to cafes in Kyoto, which he hopes will be out by the end of the year.

Tokyo Cafe had a print run of 1,000 copies and more than half of these have been sold. Pok is in talks with bookstores in Australia and Thailand to stock the book, and he may do a reprint if he receives more overseas orders.

He acknowledges the futility of trying to keep up with the proliferation of indie cafes in Japan.

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