Updated: Apr 10, 2018
Japan has a long history with coffee and is one of the main importers of Hawaiian Kona and Blue Mountain. In Tokyo though, both older gourmet cafes and newer specialty shops can be found. Both are excellent.
Water and Buying Beans
Tokyo’s water is relatively soft (50-100 mg/L) and so be aware that if buying beans here, it’s most likely roasted for this factor. It may be difficult finding water to brew with as supermarkets generally sell soft water with a TDS count of 10-50mg/L. However, this is preferable to the tap water which makes a rather flavourless brew, although an enjoyable sweet acidity can still be extracted.
The strong focus on high quality in Japan makes cafe exploration a delight. In all parts of Tokyo it’s possible to find great coffee, although from Shibuya down to Meguro it is most easy. To the north of Shibuya is Tim Wendelboe’s Fuglen, a Nordic style coffee shop and cocktail bar. The espresso is very lightly roasted and if extracted poorly, particularly with Ethiopian coffees, it can taste like butyric acid (vomit). That’s if things go wrong though. The cafe has a wonderfully cosy vibe and a good mix of people, well worth a visit.
Night time at Fuglen - Cosy
Down the alleys by Omote-Sando metro station you can find Blue Bottle and Maruyama. Blue Bottle, now owned by Nestle, is one of the most famous coffee brands from USA and the coffee and cookies can be expected to be high quality. If you prefer to root for the little guy, at the foot of the steps outside Blue Bottle is the cushty Cafe Shozzo, a more traditional Japanese coffee shop with darker roasts and flannel pour overs.
Then two alleys down is Maruyama Coffee, potentially my favourite coffee shop. They are dotted all over Japan and Tokyo has two, but I recommend the one by Omote-Sando for conversations with the baristas. It’s less busy and at the brew bar you may ask to try a selection of their coffees. The owner works tirelessly, visiting and cupping coffees all over the world and then buys them in directly. The variation, roasting and service are all fantastic. The staff are well trained and their baristas accomplished, one currently (2017) the national siphon brew champion and another, Miki Suzuki, a finalist of the World Barista Championships. A must-visit.
South of Shibuya and along the Meguro River are some more great coffee shops. Onibus, a top specialty coffee company have a shop here. The small and charming Switch Coffee can also be found along the river; a tiny, unassuming coffee roastery by the Meguro community centre. Between these two is Green Bean to Bar, a gourmet chocolate shop where you can learn about cacao processing and try their many origins. Well worth a trip and the walk down the river is a delight.
Switch Coffee, found in a residential area by the Meguro Rover
West of Shibuya station is About Life Coffee, a hole-in-the-wall coffee bar. The baristas know what they’re doing and it’s a great place to quickly try single origin espresso from different roasters. Their list of suppliers include Amameria Espresso, Switch Coffee and Onibus.
About Life Coffee - Just west of Shibuya station on Dogenzaka
A Big Loring
If you want to see a coffee roaster up close and tour a production facility, AllPress Espresso by Kiba Park in East Tokyo is a treat. I have a strong liking for AllPress’ espresso, which is consistent with the roastery cafe in Dalston, London (I have not visited the HQ in Auckland). Their blends are rich, full and flavoursome. The great, syrupy body make them a consistent, easy-drinking espresso. I see it as a shame to even add a few drops of milk, which might mask the chocolate, caramel and spice notes.
AllPress Roastery - Take a tour and speak with the Roaster.
Step Bach a few decades
To experience a well-run, robotic-like production line coffee shop in Tokyo, visit Cafe Bach. This Austrian themed cafe feels like stepping back in time, with its 80’s cafe design and old-fashioned uniforms. It has a great menu of coffee origins, roast profiles and brewing methods to choose from. Try getting a seat in front of the head barista at the brew bar to watch poetry in motion. The way they pour water, weigh and grind coffee, fill and move the kettles from one stove to another is mesmerising. In addition to the pleasant Jamaican and Hawaiian coffees, they have rarer origins from Haiti, Dominica and Yemen. The washed Haitian Mare Blanche V60 pour over was super sweet, like drinking a brown sugar solution with a few drops of green grape juice for acidity – lovely.
This guide is by no means exhaustive but a selection of very good shops with very different styles. To find more click here but better yet, go to the shops in this guide and ask the baristas. They’re all very helpful and will be more than happy to share other great locations.
Other Notable Cafes
Unlimited Coffee - By Tokyo Skytree
Salty Sunny - Akasaka Shopping area
Sarutahiko Coffee - Just east of Ebisu train station
Let us know your favourite Tokyo coffee shops below!