Most people don’t associate Japan with high quality coffee. Traditional coffee houses generally serve a filter variety of coffee, and Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines carry canned coffee, hot and cold. However, the specialty coffee scene is growing in popularity and quality. Starbucks and big chains still dominate streetscapes, but hidden down quiet lanes you’ll find the following cafes slinging quality espresso. Off the beaten tourist track, the search for the best brew is a great way to discover different neighbourhoods (and importantly stay caffeinated while at it). That’s the point of travel, right?
1 Chome-16-11 Tomigaya, 渋谷区 Tokyo 151-0063, Japan
This cafe and bar is the sister outpost of Fuglen Oslo, and you can tell. If you’re wandering around Yoyogi Park and surrounds in Tokyo, and have a hankering for a smooth cappuccino inside what feels like the coziest Scandinavian cabin, then Fuglen is your place. Who doesn’t love coffee with a vintage modernist aesthetic? It’s open well after dark (till 2am Friday and Saturday) for late night cravings.
Japan, 〒153-0051 Tokyo, 目黒区Kamimeguro, 2−14−1
Coffee underneath a rumbling train line in the trendy neighbourhood of Nakameguro? Yes please. Onibus is one of the city’s best roasters, with another outpost in Okusawa, as well as being a major supplier. Once you start sipping away at your preferred brew in the cosy seating area at Onibus, the trains completely fade into the background.
1 Chome-17-23 Meguro, Tokyo 153-0063, Japan
Located on a peaceful residential street a short walk from Meguro station lies Switch, a roastery and cafe. It may be small, with just one bench for seating, a touch of vintage furniture and a sprawling plant, but Switch served up one of the smoothest, tastiest coffees I had in Tokyo, in a peaceful setting – I can’t think of a better way to start the day.
About Life Coffee Brewers
1 Chome-19-8 Dogenzaka, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0043, Japan
Walk a little way up Dogenzaka, away from the central bustle of Shibuya, and you might spot a small crowd of people gathering in a laneway. Welcome to About Life Coffee Brewers, a tiny hole in the wall coffee bar that is serving up some quality brews with beans from its partner Onibus.
2 Chome-23-2 Kamezawa, Sumida, Tokyo 130-0014, Japan
Single O Japan is a personal favourite, and well worth the effort of tracking down in the Ryogoku district near the Edo Museum. Single O has been one of Sydney (my hometown)’s best cafes and roasters for over a decade, and last year opened its first overseas location in Tokyo. It’s hidden down a quiet street, and you’ll be greeted by friendly faces and some of the best Aussie-approved brews in town.
4 Chome-2-39 Yanaka, Taitō, Tokyo 110-0001, Japan
Tokyo Bike is a heavenly minimalist bike and retail store with a built in coffee counter. Tokyo Bike now has stores located around the world, but its original store in Tokyo’s central yet sleepy neighbourhood of Yanaka is a lovely place to stop for a coffee and then rent a stylish bike for the afternoon.
Shinagawa Station 2-18-1 Konan Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0075
Japan is the only country outside of the US in which California-based roaster Blue Bottle has set up shop so far. There’s not one, but seven Tokyo cafes (Aoyama, Kiyosumi, Nakameguro, Roppongi, Sangenjaya, Shinagawa, Shinjuku), which operate with smooth service, sleek interiors and an emphasis on quality espresso and manual brews. I particularly enjoyed the outpost at Shinagawa station, from where you can watch the immense rush hour crowds make their way through the station.
Visiting temple upon temple can be a tiring business, which is when quality coffee is desperately called upon. Kyoto has stepped up its specialty coffee game, and if you’re combining Tokyo and Kyoto as most travellers do, the following cafes are well worth a visit.
Japan, 〒600-8235 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Higashiaburanokojicho, 552
Kurasu is tucked away right next to Kyoto Station, making it the most convenient starting point in town. They rotate beans from top roasters around the world, meaning you’ll always have a slightly different tasting experience in this lovely coffee bar, but the quality will remain second to none.
Japan, 〒604-8064 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Honeyanocho, 560
Weekenders is the definition of a hidden gem – it’s located inside a small parking lot in the fantastic central shopping district of Kyoto (Teramachi Dori and surrounds). Weekenders has been around for over ten years, a pioneer of Kyoto’s specialty coffee scene. The little cafe feels far from the bustle of the city, giving you a few moments to recuperate with a lovely cup of coffee, made with its own roast.
By Rose Levy
Rose is a student of journalism, social sciences and is a German with a home base in Sydney and her heart in her favourite city of Berlin. She’s most often found wandering laneways, camera in hand and dog Mitzi in tow, searching for the best coffee and slickest cafes in town. She recently spent two weeks hunting for the best brews in Japan’s culture capitals. And was kind enough to share her experience with us. Follow her at her beautiful instagram page for more of her adventures.