Just black, please.

It’s true of every cup I order in a café. Well, almost. Maybe three visits in a hundred, I’ll ask for a latte but I typically choose plain old black, preferably using beans that are ground just before brewing. Better if they were roasted in the past week. No cream. No sweetener of any kind. Just black, thank you very much.

If I have a say in preparation, I’ll opt for whatever suits my moods; Aeropress if I’m in a rush, syphon brew if it’s a leisurely afternoon, hand pour if I crave depth. Seems like a lot of trouble for a plain old cup of black, but it’s the craft and detail that go into the brew that make a rather plain drink so very special compared to what you mix from a sachet.

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In some ways, the same thinking carries over to pens. Take the case of picking out a black pen. It should be the easiest thing in the world. Every maker worth their name offers a decent black writer and you will not lack for choice regardless of your budget. From Monteverde to Montblanc, faceted to torpedo, simple to garish, one can get a smooth flowing pen that will likely outlive its owner. Being a bit of a gear snob however,  I wanted something with a bit more craft to it.

The stars aligned when work brought me to Singapore. I had a day to kill before my conference began, and Leigh messaged to ask me to visit Aesthetic Bay. She wanted me to see if the new Mizu Iro Nakayas were in stock and indeed they were.  I marveled at the enchanting water-like hues of this new finish. Depending on how light was cast on the pens, the color would shift from mint, to gray, to blue, much as the sea’s tones change in the course of the day. As the staff gently returned those treasures to the display counter, I spied a lustrous Long Piccolo nestled quietly in the corner of the showcase. I asked to see it and you can probably guess what happened not long thereafter.

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Nothing could be seemingly plainer but Nakaya excel at making even the simplest objects exude a profound charm. This one is totally devoid of metal trim. Unlike its tamenuri kin, there is no hint of color peeking from beneath the pen’s finished edges. It is all black but perfectly so, with a shimmer and depth that would make a Steinway’s keys seem ashen in comparison. You can stare into the finish all day and never discover where the bottom of the lacquer lies, and the radiance of the urushi betrays how a living and breathing Japanese craftsman spent countless hours unearthing the beauty hidden within a lowly tree sap.

The Long Piccolo is exclusive to Aesthetic Bay and I confess to liking this shape a lot. Mottishaw’s Naka-Ai, another personal favorite, is a little more agile but the Long Piccolo gives you a bit of welcome chunk and a more pleasing visual balance. All Nakayas look good but in my opinion, this is the one that wears kuro roiro best.

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The monotone BB is a pleasant departure from Nakaya’s conservative nib norms. Like all Nakaya nibs, it needs no coaxing at all to write smoothly without stumble or stutter. But I have never ever handled a stock Nakaya that is this lush. I find it to be a notch wetter than an M4xx Pelikan B, a nib that is many things but stingy. It writes so well that it need not visit with John Mottishaw for a regrind. I generally like italic cuts on wide nibs but when something is this exceptional, I can learn to look the other way.

The best part about this pen is that it attracts no attention from the crowd. Only those familiar with Japanese pens would probably give it a second glance and even then, they would ask themselves doubtingly, “Could it be a Nakaya?” This prompts them to perhaps look closer and look closer still. Only when it is in one’s hand is the magic revealed.

Much like a perfect cup of black.

 

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