In a country where convenience is everything and ‘Boss Coffee’ comes hot straight from a vending machine, you wouldn't necessarily expect Japan’s specialty coffee scene to be as innovative and delicious as it is. Here are few of my top picks from Tokyo in 2019.
Located next to Tokyo’s largest park, Yoyogi, (home of the Meiji Jingu Shrine, cherry blossom trees and Rockabilly dancers) you’ll happen upon Fuglen. The Tokyo branch of Scandinavian owned Fuglen (‘bird’ in Norwegian) is the perfect blend of Cafe, Bar and vintage-haven for Scandinavian Interior design. Teak clad walls and Sister Nancy on the record player expertly sets the mood. Coffee here is roasted lightly, with bright and acidic flavours, the Nelson Ramirez (Honduras) espresso lives up to this profile, while the Kamwangi (Kenyan) Kalita is a beautifully clean cup with red berry juiciness and sweetness to match.
About Life Coffee Brewers
A short walk from Shibuya’s famous Scramble Crossing is this ‘Hole in the wall’ Cafe. Whilst the smallest on this list by far, it’s by no means lost in the pack. Serving up two espresso options, one house blend from their parent company Onibus and one guest espresso, they also offer up a variety of filters prepared on V60 as you sit on the bench outside and watch the world go by. About Life is great for chatting to some of Tokyo’s most knowledgeable and friendly Baristas. Their house blend espresso, roasted by Onibus, is a blend of Honduran and Guatemalan and it’s bright and punchy taste might take you by surprise.
Wandering through the back streets of Shimokitazawa with the tinny soundtrack of Queen’s We Will Rock You softly escaping speakers atop lamp posts, you’ll find the infamous Bear Pond Espresso. Run by Katsuyuki Tanaka, this cafe is divisive to say the least. Behind the unassuming and humble exterior of Bear Pond you enter Mr Tanaka’s world, no photos allowed, no public Wifi and a sign on the wall reading “Occupancy by more than 11 people is unlawful and dangerous”. This is not the cafe to whip out your laptop and start writing a screenplay. Coffee here is darkly roasted and Tanaka’s signature, “Angel Stain” (an espresso spilled down the side of the cup) is only served to 10 people per day, so arrive early... if you’re into that sort of thing. The espresso is heavy like melted chocolate, tasting like an almond chocolate bar with a smokey almost ashy aftertaste, intriguing to say the least.
Glitch Coffee Brewed @ 9H
Located in one of Tokyo’s best hostels, 9H, you’ll find Glitch Coffee & Roasters “Brew Bar”, a quiet and intimate space where V60’s are made with clinical precision and you pay extra for filtered water. Glitch serve up single origins solely by drip filter here. If you’re wanting an espresso, head to their main Cafe and Roastery in Jimbocho, an area famed for its used bookstores and a stone's throw away from the Imperial Palace. The Ethiopian coffee, a natural Geisha, is a clean and light cup with tasting notes of Lavender, Blueberry and Mango (and is one of the best I’ve had). The Jasmine and Chamomile cold brew is floral and just like the tea.
Although originating in Oakland, this Blue Bottle is tucked neatly away up a flight of incognito concrete steps in Tokyo’s Aoyama district, with 9 others spread across Tokyo. Famed for using their beans within 48 hours of roasting, this minimalist cafe-come-science-lab overlooks the crowds of Omotesando. The single origin Kenyan is classically juicy, with notes of strawberries and mango, just like a bottle of Oasis!
Nozy Coffee Cafe and Roastery
After filling your boots with vintage garms and clobber from Beams, Full Count, Porter et al, make sure you stop off at the Nozy Coffee Roastery for a caffeinated pick me up. Simplicity is key in this cafe, using only single origin beans and only 3 items on the menu; Espresso, Latte and Americano. You’re then presented with a choice of two origins, I opted for the “cup of excellence” Colombian, which is much like drinking a stout. This espresso is dark and heavy, high in acidity and smells like marzipan. The buttery and almost smoky aftertaste is unique, but enjoyable an excellent cup indeed.
We also can't forget about our brothers at Dark Arts out in Hayama, but more on that later!