Given the intensity of work culture in Tokyo – the city’s salarymen are known to pull punishingly long hours at the office – it’s no surprise that the metropolis boasts a thriving coffee culture to help keep workers appropriately caffeinated. From well-known international chains to old-fashioned kissaten (traditional tea and coffee houses) to specialty coffee roasters and cafés, there exists a plethora of options from which to choose your cup of joe.
When it comes to specialty coffee, Tokyo is widely regarded as having one of the most thriving and innovative scenes in the world. And with short-term business travel between Singapore and Japan well underway, all fingers are crossed that a leisure air travel bubble will be established between the two countries soon – which will allow you to sample the following recommendations for yourself.
Cult favourite Bear Pond Espresso – situated in the trendy Shimokitazawa district, away from the buzzing, bright lights of Shibuya Crossing – is one of the city’s most lauded coffee shops. Opened in 2009, this is where you’ll find owner and brew master Katsuyuki Tanaka posted up behind the counter, working his magic with the help of a sleek La Marzocco machine. True coffee geeks should get in line well before the store opens to get a taste of Tanaka’s Angel Stain: a perfectly pulled espresso shot that he makes a maximum of ten of each day (and only before 1pm).
Run by Shuichi Sasaki, the 2014 World Aeropress Champion, this charming coffee den in Minato City may be slightly off the tourist trail, but it’s worth the trip to sample the barista’s elegant creations for yourself. Sasaki opened Passage Coffee as a remedy to what he perceived as a dearth of specialty coffee shops in the area, and he keeps the neighbourhood’s students, salarymen and locals appropriately caffeinated. If the weather is nice, order a filter brew and enjoy it on the outdoor patio as you watch the world go by.
This prized Norwegian import has three locations throughout the city: a café by day and cocktail bar by night on the outskirts of the lush Yoyogi Park; a two-storey space at the Nine Hours capsule hotel in Asakusa; and a combined roastery and café in a tranquil part of Shibuya. Expect light roasts in the traditional Norwegian style, with drinks including filter brews, standard espresso-based beverages and more novel options such as the Espresso Con Panna (espresso topped with whipped cream) and Espresso Shakerato (espresso shaken vigorously with ice).
4. Iron Coffee
If you happen to visit the Gotokuji Temple in Setagaya (a popular tourist attraction known for its many lucky beckoning cat statues that welcome visitors to the grounds) be sure to drop by Iron Coffee. Located on a quiet street, this spartan hole-in-the-wall joint may not look like much at first glance, but the coffee brewed by owner Yuki Isono is certainly top quality. The tightly curated menu offers four drink options – espresso, americano, latte and drip coffee – available in varying sizes, either hot or served over ice.
Feel like sipping on your cuppa surrounded by plenty of lush greenery, but prefer to do it indoors? Then be sure to check out Switch Coffee’s third location in Tokyo’s K5 building, which also houses a new design-driven boutique hotel. The café’s spacious interior is decorated with plants of varying species and sizes and a mix of long communal and smaller circular wooden tables, and offers delicious coffee to boot. Get yourself comfy and sip on single-origin filter brews, espressos and lattes made using beans sourced from the likes of South America and Africa.
Founded in 2017 by Eiichi Kunitomo as a follow-up to his famed Omotesando Koffee, this isn’t so much of a café as a haven for bean geeks. While both filter and espresso brews to-go are served at the store, the main focus is squarely on retail. On any given day, you’ll find over 15 varieties of beans (roasted to varying intensities) from prime coffee-growing regions around the world, which you can take home in 150g bags and incorporate into your home-brewing ritual. Not sure where to begin? Simply approach their friendly and knowledgeable baristas, who would be more than happy to help you out with your selection.
For a quality cup of coffee in the busy Shinjuku area, head to All Seasons Coffee: a minimalist, cosy oasis helmed by duo Jun and Emi Saito. Beans from the likes of Ethiopia, Guatemala and Rwanda – mostly lightly roasted – are incorporated into cold brews, lattes and filter preparations that you can enjoy in-store or grab to-go. Try the Coffee Cherry Fizz drink for something refreshing, and don’t forget to pair your beverage with something sweet from the pastry cabinet. They also offer drip bags, whole roasted beans and house-made granola that you can take home with you.
One of the stalwarts of Tokyo’s specialty coffee scene, Glitch Coffee Roasters in Jimbocho – which is the go-to place for those in search of used books – is a must-visit if you’re in the area. The coffee shop’s minimalist interior is sparsely decorated with used books (in a tribute to the area), with limited table, counter and outdoor seating. The beans used here skew toward lighter roasts, and are sourced from countries such as Kenya, Colombia and Bolivia. A highlight is the little notecard with informative tasting notes that is supplied with your drink.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.
The information is accurate as of press time. For updated information, please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
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