The uninformed will simply order an iced coffee from one of Tokyo’s thousands of vending machines. The dedicated caffeine fiends will search harder and go further to seek out the best specialty coffee in Tokyo.
In hindsight, we wished we had conducted better research to discover some of Japan’s traditional coffee shops (kissaten) to strike a balance between the old and the new. However, we always seem to find ourselves short on time. But given the breadth and depth of this metropolis and the fact that many cafes do not open until 10am (we prefer to get in early!), the places we managed to visit were a solid introduction for our first foray into Tokyo’s coffee culture. For our next trip to Tokyo, our priority will be to visit more cafes featuring Japanese coffee brands and roasters.
Despite our limited window and the fact that generally, we’ve found good coffee to be more expensive in Asia, we set our hearts and taste buds on a mission to find Meguro coffee shops, the best coffee in Harajuku and even swing by (arguably) the most instagrammable cafe in Tokyo. This coffee drinking certainly created a large dent in our budget but in return, we discovered that Tokyo baristas excel at all coffee styles imaginable.
your essential tokyo coffee guide
The Roastery by Nozy Coffee
When you need a break from shopping vintage clothing and taking pictures with the Harajuku girls, turn your feet towards the Roastery by Nozy Coffee for a coffee break. Located between The North Face and Reebok Classic stores, the Roastery is a cosy nook underneath the stairs of a barbecue restaurant. Featuring a circular coffee station with surrounding high top bar stools, the roasting machine is at the back of the cafe alongside the filter coffee station and merchandise for sale. The Roastery serves single origin coffee beans. The day we visit, fruity undertones such as grapefruit, pear, orange and cranberry were on offer. All espresso, americano and cafe latte orders are served as double shots whilst customers who order a filter hand brew are free to select their coffee beans. Doughnuts and sweet slices are available as accompanying snacks. If you find yourself in the area on a Wednesday night, public cupping sessions run from 6 – 7 pm.
Allpress Tokyo Roastery & Cafe
An old timber warehouse nestled in the quiet Kiyosumi Shirakawa community is the location of the Allpress’ Tokyo Roastery & Cafe. Birch tables invite customers to sit and sip their coffee whilst connecting with other coffee drinkers. Patrons can also watch the roasting machine in action through the floor-to-ceiling windows between the coffee counter and roasting area and are invited to go behind the scenes for tasting sessions and to learn more of the technical roasting processes. It’s a tasteful, modern space and we can see how the brand has worked hard to foster creativity in a new age whilst respecting the traditions of the past. Baristas wear chunky jumpers, boyfriend jeans and Doc Martens whilst seemingly greeting regular customers like old friends. Bevan enjoyed his flat white believing that the coffee emitted his favourite chocolate flavours. Allpress Coffee is well-known and loved in Australia so we were pleased that the Tokyo branch produced the good stuff during our visit. Cash and card accepted.
Blue Bottle Coffee Kiyosumi Shirakawa Roastery & Cafe
When we entered the premises of Blue Bottle Coffee’s Tokyo flagship, it first felt like we had walked into a science lab and we were about to give ourselves up as live bait for the next experiment. Fortunately, the only experiment you need to concern yourself with is your coffee beans choice.
Blue Bottle Coffee originated in Oakland, California in the early 2000s and now operates 13 cafes across Tokyo. All baristas wear a lab coat apron in a washed denim and collectively greet customers “konichiwa” as they enter and big goodbye “arigato” as you leave. Single origin coffees outline the key tasting notes and highlight the available serving methods (drip, espresso, siphon or nel). Our visit coincided with Blue Bottle’s 5th Anniversary for which the cafe has developed a special menu and coffee beans blend. We both opted for the anniversary blend, called “Diapante”, a blend of beans from Honduras and Guatemala with promised flavours of Japanese Refund Sugar, Ponkan Orange and Apricot. Bevan opted for a drip coffee whilst I selected an espresso blend titled a “Gibraltar” – Blue Bottle’s version of a piccolo crossed with a short macchiato. We also shared a Potato Waffle which was topped with burrata, prosciutto and seasonal fruit – small but delicious! Though we selected the same coffee beans, we both struggled to pick up the flavours but perhaps we were preoccupied with our food!
The cafe is set inside a large, airy space with several large tables and the roasting facility at the back of the room. Alternatively, sit at the high bench counter like us and watch all the action of drip coffee and pastries being prepared. Take-away available and Blue Bottle coffee merchandise for sale. Cash and card accepted.
The Workers Coffee
For something a little more fancy, take a seat at The Workers Coffee cafe. Operating within a small space next to Stall restaurant and event space, the corner cafe/restaurant is light, sophisticated and rather classy. The cafe area doesn’t seat many; 8 on the shared bench table and approximately 6 at the high window bench looking out at the Meguro River. Hot and iced coffee drinks are available on the menu; we settled for a hot cafe latte and iced americano. You would be terribly remiss to not select from the sweets selection in the Nakamura General Store – during our visit, the menu included banana bread, carrot cake, apple pound cake and yuzu sweet potato roll cake. It’s a popular place for students and digital nomads and there is also a small concept store selling t-shirts and stationery as well as artwork by Japanese designer Meguri Takarri. Cash and card accepted.
The micro roastery in the charming Meguro neighbourhood is located a stone’s throw from the Meguro River. Focused solely on coffee, you’ll find a range of fruity flavours from Switch’s single origin coffees and milk chocolate from their seasonal blend. The menu offers trusty espresso blends, espresso tonic, batch brew and filter coffee but the latter is sold at market price. Heads up for readers: the coffee is a little more expensive than other cafes we visited in Tokyo but we thought it was a good choice for an afternoon pick-me-up. The hole in the wall spot doesn’t serve food nor does it have any seating so we’d recommend ordering a takeaway coffee and sitting by the river in the sunshine if the weather permits. If you visit late March/early April, you’ll also get to witness the beautiful sakura.
Little Nap Coffee Stand
“Drink more coffee, take less photos”
Well, we don’t entirely agree with this sentiment but we suspect that the cafe owner is encouraging fewer photos of coffee and more drinking of his coffee. And we can get on board with that.
Vintage knick-knacks, skateboarder sketches and red floral wallpaper promising “A Cup of Happiness” decorate the interior of Little Nap Coffee Stand, another tiny hole-in-the-wall cafe on the edge of Yoyogi park opposite a basketball court. This coffee stand fits approximately 6 seated customers and to my delight, there was a furry mameshiba napping underneath his owner’s legs during our visit (I spent more time giving the little cutie head scratches and belly rubs and ended up ignoring my espresso for the most part!). Little Nap offers both espresso blends and filter coffee and encourages customers to choose their beans when selecting a filter option. Bevan selected Brazilian beans for his fix of dark chocolate flavours. For a small cafe, we were impressed with their food menu which included hot dogs, ham and cheese sandwiches and delicious looking cakes; caramel and fig, lemon and banana. Snacks include granola slices, cookie sandwiches and artisanal ice cream. The cafe roasts its own beans in Tokyo so if you enjoy their blend, look to pick up a bag to take home with you.
Beware: If choosing to dine-in, customers must order one drink menu item per person. The Joint coffee menu item (espresso + drip coffee) is classed as one order for one person i.e. it cannot be shared between two people.
Rostro Coffee Roasters
Stepping inside Rostro Coffee Roasters feels like you’ve been invited into a traditional Japanese home. Warm wooden interiors and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee welcome you. The coffee counter features cylinders of coffee beans with tasting notes written in white marker. Chalkboard menus display filter coffee diagrams and a cleverly designed matrix shows the coffee house’s full range of roasts from dark to light. Rostro’s Soleil medium roast recently won a gold medal at the 2019 International Coffee Tasting in Tokyo.
Rostro is a Japanese coffee house and uniquely, does not have a drink menu for dine-in customers. Instead, the cafe prefers to ask customers’ preference of coffee based on their current mood. As we were on a tight schedule, Bevan ordered a cafe latte to go, so we did not receive the full Rostro experience on this visit.
Rostro also offers a full breakfast menu. Between 8 – 11am, the morning set is only ¥800 consisting of toast or bagel, boiled egg, salad, yoghurt coffee or tea. Other bagels and sandwiches are available throughout the day. If you’re keen to try something different, Cafe Rostro offers a homemade coffee jelly which is served in an egg cup.
Smoking and laptops are not permitted inside but there is a large outdoor wooden terrace to sit and sip your coffee while watching pedestrians go by.
Originating from the frosty streets of Oslo, Norway in 1963, Fuglen travelled across continents to open a partner roastery and cafes in Tokyo. This espresso bar and cocktail bar is located on the edge of Yoyogi Park in the Shibuya district. The interior is decked out in 1960s vintage design with wooden panelling, a sunken seating area and retro trinkets on the shelves. Black bar stools hug a curved mahogany bar from which the baristas and cocktail shakers work.
True to Fuglen’s ethos, the coffee beans are roasted lightly, in the Nordic style. We order an Aeropress brewed with beans from Honduras promising milky caramel tasting notes. It’s difficult to bypass the pristine flaky croissants and cardamon treats for sale. The cafe’s playlist croons from a record player in the corner. The morning of our visit, the cafe is filled with hipster students and independent locals working at laptops or conducting business meetings. The cafe/bar is dimly lit but we can imagine that this lighting adds to the mood and heightens the enjoyment of the espresso cocktails when night falls. Outside, bench seating and square tables line the cafe for smokers and patrons to enjoy the sun when it shines.
There is also a sister branch in Asakusa.
“Mame” is the Japanese word for “beans” and “Ya” means “shop”. So together, the perfect translation of Koffee Mameya from Japanese to English is “Coffee Beans Shop”. And this place is everything coffee.
Koffee Mameya was the final stop on our whirlwind trip to Tokyo and we sorely wish we had visited this place earlier on. The black rectangular archway leads into a small space with standing room only. A bench top separates customers from the baristas who stand guard of bags of coffee beans available for sale. Koffee Mameya stocks a range of coffee beans sourced from coffee roasters in Australia (Code Black Coffee Roasters), Denmark (Coffee Collective) and of course, Japan. Coffee drinkers are invited to view a colour coded matrix and decide on their coffee, ranging from acidic flavours (fruity) to more bitter (chocolate-y).
All coffees are served as filter coffees. Bevan opted for a darker roast by Japanese coffee roaster Tokado Coffee. Chatting with the baristas (including one guy who spent a year working in a Melbourne cafe in Fitzroy) was a highlight for us on our Tokyo coffee tour. Demonstrating knowledge, passion and excellent service, Koffee Mameya is highly recommended.
For giggles & the ‘gram
It’s all about finding your niche. And if social media catches whiff of it, everyone will want a piece of it and popularity will skyrocket. For Reissue Cafe, that niche is 3D and 2D latte art. Reissue Cafe opened in Harajuku in 2015 by Yasunori Yamamoto (Jouji). From his time working in a French restaurant in Tokyo and continuous trial and error, Yasunori became more skilled and his 3D foamed milk creations gained attention in Japan and then worldwide.
The trained latte art baristas can now whip up 3D or 2D art in your sweet coffees depicting Kirby, elephants, cats, rabbits and Pikachu. These temporary foamy cute animals and characters come at a hefty price of ￥1,100 (AUD $15) and the cafe’s rule is one drink or food item per person. At peak times, customers are required to put their name down on a waiting list and return within the hour.
Jasmine shelled out for a 3D Pikachu in a cafe mocha whilst Bevan settled for a gin and tonic. The impressive latte art is adored and admired by locals and tourists so if you’ve already drunk coffee out of an avocado shell, this might be the next one for your Instagram feed.