by Grady Mitchell | Mas Fujinaga’s first memories of coffee are making instant brew and bringing it to his mom. His technique has improved a lot since then. Today Mas is Vancouver’s best purveyor of Matsuya-style coffee, a century-old Japanese technique involving incredible care and attention.
After working for many years for independent cafes around Vancouver, in 2011 Mas set out on his own with Handworks Coffee Studio. “I had passion,” Mas says. “But I had no money.” Thankfully, his Matsuya style, although heavily labour intensive, is not machinery dependent. When he says “Handworks,” he means it. Mas oversees every step himself – cleaning, roasting, and brewing his beans – and does so with intimate care.
When it comes to his beans, Handworks operates on a “Three F’s” philosophy: fair, fungus free, and fresh. He cleans his beans by hand, picking out any that show fungus. Everyone loves to describe themselves as a “micro roaster” these days. Mas describes his roasting operation in Port Coquitlam as “nano roasting.” He’s not joking. He pulls out his first roasting set-up to show me. It’s a metal drum with a crank on one side. It sits in a brace that holds it over an open flame. It looks medieval. “Probably other coffee roasters laugh at me,” he says, smiling. He’s since upgraded his gear, but it’s still on the nano-scale.
Not content to merely prepare the beans for the cup, he brings the same care to the final step, brewing. “The feature point of Matsuya style is that you’re making an Americano by hand,” he explains. It starts with a coarse grind and more beans per cup – about 1.5 to twice as many as other cafes. Using a simple wire frame hand-made in Japan, he places the grinds in a paper filter and pours hot water through. Rather than allow the water to pool around the grounds, as in other pour over methods, it passes straight through – hence the need for more beans. Mas monitors the colour of the coffee to ensure perfect timing and lock in an umami flavour not found in western-style coffee. If that sounds involved, his iced coffee is even more impressive, involving 8-10 hours of gravity brewing. The final product, Mas says, tastes more like wine than traditional iced coffee. And given the labour involved, his products are absurdly affordable.
One of the best parts of the Matsuya method is that it relies more on a barista’s skill than expensive machinery. It was developed in 1909 in Nagoya, Japan. Mas has made a sort of pilgrimage there to receive private mentorship in the craft. The simple gear – a glass beaker, wire frame, and paper filter – means you could make a world class Matsuya-style cup on a mountaintop, if you felt so inclined.
To showcase his painstaking work, Mas sells all his beans in clear packages, a testament to his confidence in the product. Since he couldn’t find clear coffee bags in Canada, he sources them from Japan. This past January he took over the coffee counter at Basho Cafe, where you’ll find him Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9AM to 4PM, and regularly pops up at farmer’s markets across the city (see an upcoming list here).