Tokyo is massive. It contains towns and sections and subsections. It’s criss-crossed with train lines, subways tunnels, and bus routes run by different companies and organizations. It is, In short, a maze.
And that makes finding specialty coffee tricky – yet in the past few years, it’s started to get a bit easier. As several specialty roasters and cafés have begun to carve out a name for themselves here, certain areas are starting to have a higher concentration of good coffee than others.
Whether you’re living in Tokyo or vacationing here, these coffee towns should be on your to-visit list. So let’s get acquainted with some of them, shall we?
Kiyosumi Shirakawa is an unassuming town in the east of urban Tokyo. At first glance, this area has nothing. Gray concrete buildings and gritty streets surround the station, which feels a bit… out-of-date, compared to the rest of the city.
However, this area has somehow become a hub for coffee lovers from all over. Blue Bottle chose it for their first Japanese location, selecting a large warehouse building on a seemingly empty street. And now, curious coffee tourists flock to this area to see what this new American coffee shop is all about.
Pour over setup at Blue Bottle, Kiyosumi Shirawaka. Credit: E Tessier
New Zealand’s Allpress Espresso also decided to open its Tokyo location here, adding to Kiyosumi Shirakawa’s international coffee vibe. Allpress specializes in milk-based espresso beverages and their offerings will definitely satisfy the latte lovers among us.
Allpress’ espresso stands up to milk exceptionally well. Credit: E Tessier
Yet you won’t just find the big names of coffee here: there are also plenty of local coffee businesses. Arise Coffee Roasters has both a sit-down café space dedicated solely to pour overs, Arise Coffee Entangle, and a roaster location nearby. These guys care deeply about single origins, and are always searching for new and interesting beans.
Both of the locations are worth checking out. The roastery is a cluttered mass of skateboards and coffee bean bags, all squeezed into a tiny corner store. And somehow, in this small space, Arise manages to roast some top-tier beans.
As for the café, you’ll come away with an impression of two things: great coffee and a zany decor. Its style is modern and trendy, with features such as a plastic rhino head mounted on the wall and the giant wooden airplane propellor propped up in the corner. Somehow, this all seems effortlessly coordinated.
The chaotic beauty of Arise Coffee Roasters. Credit: E Tessier
Jingumae is a section of Shibuya, the ultra modern and crowded shopping district. Even if you don’t know the name Shibuya, you’ll recognize it – this district is famous for its busy pedestrian crossing and building-sized TVs, located just outside the train station.
You’ll find Jingumae sandwiched between the Harajuku area, famous for street fashion, and the Omotesando area, famous for its boutiques and high-end designer shops. And amidst the dazzling sights and sounds of this pedestrian paradise, you’ll also find a few of Tokyo’s top cafés.
The Roastery by Nozy Coffee, tucked off to the side of the fashionable Cat Street, specializes in single origin espresso beverages. The simple menu features only three items – espresso, latte, and americano – but they are done extremely well. When ordering, you have a choice of two varietals, with spot-on tasting notes written on the menu board to guide you. And this dark and bustling café impresses every time.
The Roastery: amazing shots in an amazing space. Credit: E Tessier
Deus ex Machina, a bit away from the busy main streets, is a multi-floored espresso bar/clothing store/motorcycle customizer (yes, really). But this coffee shop is far more than just a gimmick: the head barista is the well-known Tokyo Latte Art Champion Yoshida Yoshiteru. The café is clean and spacious, with an industrial vibe: concrete, rough woods, and exposed venting systems make up a good deal of the décor. You can find a couch to get comfortable on off of the main floor, or enjoy your coffee at the large communal table.
Industrial chic at Deus ex Machina. Credit: Eric S. Tessier
The newly opened Ratio Coffee & Cycle is aptly named. Half coffee shop, half bike shop, they serve up espresso and pour overs from one of Tokyo’s hottest specialty roasters, Onibus Coffee. The café seating blends with the bicycle merchandise and displays throughout the store, creating a unique atmosphere. Whether you’re reading your favorite novel or trying on bike helmets while sipping your coffee, you’ll feel equally comfortable.
Espresso and bicycles! What’s not to love? Credit: E Tessier
Ritzy, high-end Aoyama has attracted several good cafés, all within 500 meters of each other, making it the perfect town for a café crawl.
Blue Bottle opened its second Tokyo location here. Its an open and relaxing space. During the day, natural light floods in from large windows, while at night it is dimly lit and cozy, despite the large space. But perhaps the reason to visit this café is the chance to drink a cup of coffee from the syphon brewer bar.
Stairway to Blue Bottle Aoyama. Credit: E Tessier
Cafe Kitsune is the perfect spot for the Japanophile. The interior is accented by traditional Japanese patterns on the walls, while bonsai trees are also dotted about. The coolest part of this shop, at least for coffee nerds, may be the wooden lacquered pour over cones in traditional urushi, or Japanese lacquer.
Cafe Kitsune, a coffee house with a traditional flair. Credit: E Tessier
The most impressive thing about Cobi Coffee, on the other hand, is the blend of modern flavor profiles with traditional brewing methods. It’s a small café space inside an amazingly hip clothing store, and it brews coffee with flannel filters and copper kettles – a style often used in old-fashioned Japanese kissaten, or tea houses.
A “nel” drip flannel filtered pour over at Cobi Coffee. Credit: E Tessier
The third wave hit these shores a bit late, but Tokyo’s coffee scene is quickly growing. So to experience specialty coffee culture with a Japanese twist, don’t miss out on these three coffee towns.
Written by E. Tessier of www.TokyoCoffee.org and edited by T. Newton.
Perfect Daily Grind.