Japan is more known for tea than coffee, but since the Dutch brought the bitter beverage to these shores in the 1800s, it has become as widespread as its preparation is varied. Aside from the ubiquitous chain outlets, there are hundreds of little cafés that take pride in their own way of preparing and serving. Some roast and sell their own beans, some use the siphon vacuum method, some do crazy whippy designs on their café latte. Out of all these options, here are some favorites.
Omotesando KoffeeSecret garden
The best ones are always harder to find, and all the better once you do. Omotesando Koffee is the first floor of a two-story traditional Japanese house; enter through the small gate into a tiny garden and you’ll see the coffee counter through the open sliding doors. Made personally by the owner, the coffee is very smooth and a perfect balance of light and dark, which can be drunk any time. Get a cup (from ¥350) and relax in their peaceful garden.
4-15-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5413-9422. Open daily 10am-7pm. www.ooo-koffee.com
Obscura CaféSiphonic art
At Obscura Café, water is boiled one cup at a time with the siphon method—also known as vacuum coffee making—a technique invented in Berlin in the 1830s. The water transfers upward through a connecting beaker that contains coffee and sits before dripping back down to be served. The barista times it to the second, with different types of coffee (from ¥500) requiring differing times. While the siphon drips, enjoy English art and design coffee-table books. Obscura Laboratory (4-28-9 Tashido, Setagaya-ku) sells coffee beans and take-out coffee.
1-9-16 Sangenjyaya, Setagaya-ku. Tel:03-3795-6027. Open daily noon-11pm, closed 3rd Wed. www.cafe-obscura.com
YanakaFollow your nose
Here’s a chain that provides a delicious-smelling alternative to the other high-street staples. At Yanaka stores, the beans are roasted right there behind the counter. Choose your beans to drink or buy from various wooden containers. You can even choose how well done you want your beans according to a chart that explains the aroma and taste at each level of roasting. Now that’s consumer coffee control.
2-33-6 Shimokitazawa, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 0120-935-466. Open daily 11am-8pm, closed 2nd Tue. www.yanaka-coffeeten.com
Coffee and Roaster 2-3
Slow and solo
Take your time to read the menu descriptions, while you relax to mellow jazz. This season’s special Brazilian Aoba blend had a fresh aftertaste and a soft aroma, and they also serve Guatemalan, Tanzanian, and Colombian coffee (also as beans), prepared in the good old-fashioned drip style using fennel cloth instead of paper filters (from ¥450). Concoctions such as mocha Java with whipped cream and mint and Irish Mist coffee are also available. The Showa-era crockery and comfortable couches make this a great place for some solo downtime.
1F Kamohara Bldg, 1-2-14 Shimotakaido, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-3327-9923. Open Tue-Sun 11:30am-8pm, closed Mon. http://coffee2-3.jp
Bear Pond EspressoCoffee with a little treat
Often touted as the best coffee in Tokyo, Bear Pond is owned by a couple who used to live in New York. The tiny café with wooden benches thus has an American feel, especially when you see the American candies and treats lined up on the counter. The coffee (from ¥300) is rich and thick with a sweet aroma, and the espresso shot will power you through the day. Try their creamy, smooth iced latte—a perfect dessert in itself.
2-36-12 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 03-5454-2486. Open daily from 10am (closing time varies). www.bear-pond.com
LifeCoffee, dinner, music
After a day in Yoyogi Park, Life will provide you with home-made pizzas, a variety of pastas, and some rustic Italian wine to slurp, before you cap it all off with their excellent cappuccinos (¥500), complete with some premium foam art. In their choice of coffee beans, Life opts for a Japanese blend—Yamamoto beans—to combine Italian expertise with a Japanese palate. Local bands add a musical element to your Life experience every now and then, accompanied by special dinner menus—check their homepage for dates of upcoming events.
1F, 1-9-19 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3467-3479. Open daily 11:45am-2:30pm & 6-10pm. www.s-life.jp