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Ogawa Coffee planning to make US debut in Boston

Haruna Murayama’s winning design at the World Latte Art Championships in 2010. Murayama will oversee the coffee menu at Ogawa Coffee’s first US location in downtown Boston.OGAWA COFFEE

Get ready for thick coffee, intricate glassware — and latte art that will blow your mind.

A popular Japanese coffee roaster is planning to make its American debut by opening a new store in downtown Boston, a significant development that signals a new growth and expansion in Boston's specialty coffee scene.

Ogawa Coffee is planning to open a store at 10 Milk St. in the sprng, next to the Old South Meeting House in Downtown Crossing.

It's a sign of Boston's arrival as an international coffee destination. Caffebene, the South Korea-based coffee chain that has seen explosive growth over the past several years, also recently began opening stores in Boston as it expands in the United States.


"Bostonians should expect a hospitality and world top class coffee that they have never experienced before," Takako Oji, director of Ogawa Coffee, said in an e-mail.

Haruna Murayama, the 2010 World Latte Art champion, is planning to live in Boston and will oversee the cafe's coffee menu.

"We are currently tweaking the menu that goes well with our coffee to cater traditional Bostonian taste with a hint of Japanese cafe culture," Takako said.

The store will include a brewer's lab, a training studio, and event space.

"There is a real Boston coffee scene now. It wasn't true 20 years ago," said Merry White, a Boston University professor and author of the book "Coffee Life in Japan." "And [Ogawa officials] are really strong readers of that."

Japan is one of the biggest, most important coffee markets in the world.

Hario, which makes glass coffeeware used at speciality coffee shops around the country, is from Japan and has become so ubiquitous in the United States that it is now carried by Williams-Sonoma. James Freeman — who started Blue Bottle, the popular California-based roaster — is a passionate enthusiast for Japanese coffee.


Ogawa Coffee

But there have been virtually no Japanese roasters or coffee shops that have spread into the United States. Ogawa's shop in Boston will be the first time a coffee chain from Japan opens in the United States, according to White.

The growth has mostly been the reverse: Japan, for example, was the first international expansion for Starbucks, and it remains one of their biggest. And Boss Coffee, a Japanese company offering coffee in a can, has used Tommy Lee Jones, wearing traditional dress and uttering a few phrases, in its commercials (which are a must watch).

Among the three largest coffee-consuming countries — the United States, Germany, and Japan — coffee in Japan is brewed strongest, according to White's book. The typical coffee in Japan uses about three times more coffee. And almost no one in Japan drinks decaf: 15 percent of US sales are decaf, compared with 0.15 percent in Japan.

Ogawa Coffee was established in 1957, and it now has about 40 shops in Japan. They have been scouting Boston for at least two years, making a trip to meet with cafe owners in the area and tour their shops. White has spoken with company officials but has no financial relationship with them.

Takako said the company chose Boston over New York because Boston shares many of the demographic characteristics of Kyoto, the area of Japan where Ogawa is based. Both are rich in history, have large college-aged populations, and have international visitors.


Boston and Kyoto also became sister cities in 1959, establishing culture and student exchange programs.

Ogawa Coffee’s Hisako Yoshikawa competes at the 2013 World Latte Art Competition, which she ultimately won.DANIEL HENDERSON/2013/WCE/2013 WCE

It is still unclear exactly much of the Japanese flavor Ogawa will inject into its Boston cafe. In its Japanese stores, for example, it uses ceramic cups painted with flowers expressing the changing of the seasons.

The latte art is also far more intricate than what US baristas typically attempt (think butterflies and animals created in the foam), and Ogawa is known for its artistic abilities. One of the company's baristas, Hisako Yoshikawa, won the 2013 World Latte Art Championship.

It will probably adapt to some American norms, offering coffee to go (which has been slower to catch on in Japan) and will feature espresso-based drinks (rare in Japan, where the emphasis is on brewed coffee).

"What we seek is not only good-tasting coffee," Ogawa president Hideaki Ogawa writes on the company's English language site. "It is discovering and providing the coffee's value that leads humans, nature and the whole environment in a positive direction. This is our dream."

Ogawa Coffee

Watch a YouTube video of Haruna Murayama in the World Latte Art Championship.

Matt Viser can be reached at matt.viser@globe.com.