The Japanese are fond of coffee, as evidenced by the “kissaten culture,” which started in Nagoya and is exemplified by Komeda Coffee‘s man and ubiquitous branches, and the proliferation of coffee vending machines delivering largely sickly sweet but highly caffeinated “coffee.” But if you want a solid espresso drink or even a fine cup of “Joe,” as Americans like to say, away from the chain store uniformity? Tokyo is awash with great artisan and craft coffee shops, and below are just a few of our favorite ones in the capital.
Technically a chain, but the coffee is good and the specialty “latte art” is amazing. As they focus on this art, the coffee they make can lean towards the milky for folk’s tastes, mine for example (!), but they do a good job of pulling the shots and the latte art is impressive. The owner has a couple of decades experience in New York’s coffee shops, and as a result the shops (there are a number of branches) offer amenities that western, especially from the USA, customers will recognize such as free wifi and shared seating arrangements.
Address: (see site for more branches) 1-20-28 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku Tokyo
Named after a powerful Shinto deity, Sarutahiko Coffee near Ebisu station opened in 2011. It is popular with a young crowd, though situated ideally for the passing salaryman market. Although there’s seating for only eight amongst the Steampunk copper fixtures, the baristas are happy and friendly and have time to chat with their many customers, both sit-ins and takeaways alike.
Owner Tomoyuki Ootsuka began with hand drip coffee alone, but has now branched out into espresso drinks with beans supplied by Nozy Coffee and Cafetenango using a Synesso machine. If you want to hang around reading in the sometimes chilled ambiance you can find in store a copy of ‘Coffee With Tim Wendelboe’, signed by the eponymous winner of the 2004 World Barista Championship and 2005 World Cup Tasters Championship, commending Sarutahiko Coffee’s great brew.
Address: 1-6-6 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
While the Blue Bottle Café in Ayoma is already well known, it is the Californian company’s new coffee shop in Kiyosumi that is causing quite a buzz. The café is set in a breathtaking building renovated by Schemata Architects from an old paper factory, with large glass doors and screens installed on each floor to maintain transparency between neighboring spaces, inside and outside, and the lower and upper floors.
The menu is familiar-looking: espresso drinks, single origin and blends as drip coffee, iced coffee as well as pastries; but the beans are roasted on sight in an immense Loring roaster that can roast 35 kg at a time, and used within 48 hours. The baristas are a mix of Japanese and Californian, and have been trained by former World Barista champion Michael Philips, ensuring the taste is the same as that you would get in Oakland.
Address: 1-4-8, Hirano, Koto-ku Tokyo,
As the Latte Art Fest trade show is in town this month, it’s impossible not to mention Zoka. The coffee shop located in Mejiro is so well known for their latte art, that they even hold classes for the general public. It’s one of the most western style cafes in Tokyo with plenty of chairs and airy windows, and as it is just round the corner from Gakushin University it has a very youthful and vibrant clientele. The coffee itself is particularly strong, though as roasters themselves and past winners of Japan’s Roaster of the Year award, they seem to know what they are doing.
If there’s something that Parisians know about, it’s coffee. So when the Paris branch of Café Coutume was heralded as one of the hottest craft cafes in the city, there has to be something in it. Coutume first arrived in Tokyo in Aoyama in April 2014, and in February of this year a second Tokyo location was opened in Futakotamagawa.
While the Aoyama branch employs a self-service style, here the staff both take your order and serve you at your table giving you a more leisurely opportunity to peruse the menu that includes the familiar coffees and teas as well as sandwiches, salads and specialty deserts which are all reasonably priced (though ‘le petite déjeuner’ is only served between 7.30 and 11am). Having saved money on dining, take the opportunity to splash out on their specialty coffee, including their famous Esmerelda Geisha Boquete Panama.
Most coffee houses on this list are of the modern, western variety, but Café De L’Ambre in Ginza couldn’t be any different if it tried. The sign on the small wooden door reads ‘Coffee Only’, and behind that door lies a traditional kissaten that has been serving locals since 1948, unbelievably in all that time owned by the one man, 100 year old Ichiro Sekiguchi. The décor is dark and heavy, lit by a beautiful stained glass lamp.
There is a washing machine behind the counter as drinks are made using cloth filters, and though gilt-framed French poems adorn the former actually assists in making it all feel authentic, historic rather than pretentious. The Francophile aspect extends to the menu that includes unusual blends such as cognac or even champagne. If you are unsure of what to order, the serious, dedicated staff will be able to help you choose with their English menu from their many own roasted blends, some of which are more than 30 years old.
Address: 8-10-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo