Your Coffee-tinerary for Japan
When my favourite travel platform informed me about inexpensive flights to Japan, I didn't even hesitate for a second and bought my ticket. Although Japan hadn't really been on my radar, somehow I was instantly drawn to the idea to visit this country known for melting modern with traditional and wabi with sabi. So it happened that in May 2016 I would wander the roads of major cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Kyoto to dwell in the cultural wealth that is Japan. But not only! I had long read Volume 2 of Drift Magazine entirely devoted to the coffee culture in Japan with a focus on Tokyo and therefore expected no less of the Japanese specialty coffee scene than excellence. As my time was limited, I tried to make the most of it and combined sightseeing with cafe hopping. This guide is the result! Getting around in Japan is not always easy, but my coffee-tinerary will lead you to the finest specialty coffee and third wave shops close to points of interest.
Specialty Coffee Shops in Tokyo - Part I
The contrast of modern and traditional trickles down all the way to the local coffee culture. While traditional Japanese coffee houses Kissaten are still on Tokyo's coffee map, they are prominently visited by the older generation. The majority of youngsters and young professionals is frequenting western style cafés and frantically posts about it on Instagram. Although mainstream coffee chains enjoy popularity, the third wave movement has Tokyo fully in its grip and spreads throughout the country. But despite the difference in style and clientele, the traditional Japanese coffee houses Kissaten and the fashionable, ever emerging specialty coffee shops have one thing in common: Perfection and love for the craft! Some third wave shops even incorporate traditional elements to connect to the roots of the traditional coffee culture. As the focus of this blog is specialty only, find below some of the third wave forerunners in town.
The Roastery by Nozy Coffee
My favourite spot to refuel when exploring the neighbourhood of Shibuya was The Roastery by Nozy Coffee. From Harajuku station it is conveniently located a 10 minute walk down Omotesando Avenue on Cat street.. This fast-paced coffee shop stands out as it serves single origin beans only, which are changed regularly and are roasted on site on a Probat.
Sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth, but other times they make it better! The Roastery by Nozy Coffee is a cooperation between Nozy Coffee and Tysons & Company, each adding their expertise to the project. The result is excellent coffee paired with a distinct interior design. The counter floats like an island is the center of the establishment, only one of the many characteristics that make this place so unique, On sunny daysa spacious, warehouse-styled terrace invites to linger. The menu is as simple as it is sufficient: two types of single origin to choose from for either Espresso, Cafe Latte or Americano. During my visit, I enjoyed both options currently in the grinder, the Costa Rica and the Honduras. The latter was my favourite, a perfectly balanced, bright and fruity.brew.
5-17-13, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
MON - SUN 10:00 - 22:00
Another well known address for connoisseurs with a fable for the Scandinavian approach to coffee is Fuglen in Shibuya. The café is located close to Yogyogi Park, home to the famous Meiji Shrine, in Shibuya. Its mantra is quality coffee by day, classy cocktails by night and beautiful vintage furniture from the 50s and 60s all year round. Only the best roasters in Oslo were featured here, from Tim Wendelboe and Kaffa to Supreme Roastworks. Nowadays, Fuglen is directly roasting beans in Tokyo, supplied by the import company Nordic Approach, of which Tim Wendleboe is a co-founder.
Do pay their Facebook page a visit if you are planning to stop by, as Fuglen organise interesting events regularly, such as evening cuppings or Nordic lifestyle markets.
Tomigaya 1-16-11 Shibuya-ku Tokyo
MON - TUE 08:00 - 22:00
WED - THU 08:00 - 01:00
FRI 08:00 - 02:00
SAT 10:00 - 02:00
SUN 10:00 - 24:00
Unlimited Coffee Bar
Tokyo Skytree. How about a trip to climb the tallest tower in the world coupled with a smooth, creamy cafe latte poured right in front of your eyes? Sounds to good to be true, I know, but Unlimited Coffee Bar is located only a stone's throw away from Tokyo Skytree and goes the extra mile to give your coffee experience a personal touch.
Unlimited Coffee Bar was founded in 2015 by two well-known personalities in Japan's specialty coffee scene, Daichi Matsubara is a certified judge for barista championships and Rena Hirai has many years experience as a roaster. Their expertise lead them to open a Barista Training Lab in the upstairs level of the Skytree location. Single origin is the rule here, both for espresso based drinks and pour-over. At the time of my visit they brewed Rwanda/Ruli kare, roasted in house, with notes of orange, white wine and a crisp acidity. And if you're not feeling spoiled enough, every cup of milk beverage is poured directly at your table! Once you've refueled your energy, walk a couple of hundred meters across Sumida river to get to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa!
1 Chome-18-2 Narihira
TUE - FRI 11:00 - 24:00
SA- SUN 09:00 - 24:00
Specialty Coffee Shops in Kyoto
While most tourists I met traveled with a RailPass in order to visit as many places as possible in a short amount of time, I went to Kyoto by night bus as it was a better fit for my budget. Needless to say my journey was not as comfortable as a trip with the JR Shinkansen bullet train would have been. It comes as no surprise that by the time I arrived in Kyoto I was in desperate need of coffee. Lucky for me, I did not only book the best hostel in town Piece Hostel Sanjo, but it also had an in-house specialty coffee shop that saved me from snoozing off in the lobby.
Drip and Drop Coffee Supply
Drip and Drop Coffee Supply is located in the basement of Piece Hostel Sanjo since October 2015 and sends out rays of tranquility and calmness.
The menu holds two house blends and one single origin for pour over, all roasted on site. It is a true pleasure watching the barista brewing with the highest attention to detail and concentration. Nothing is left to chance and every gram counts! A special treat was the single origin from El Salvador, more specifically from the farm Buenos Aires located in El Congo, Santa Ana, which received 85.65 point in the 2015 Cup of Excellence. If you are a guest at the hostel you'll score a discount card for your coffee.
Asakuracho, 531, PIECE HOSTEL SANJO B1F
MON - SUN 11:00 - 22:00
Clamp Coffee Sarasa
Now all this temple hopping in Kyoto can seriously wear you out. In case you find yourself near Nijō Castle and ready for a break, look for a small backyard café by the name Clamp Coffee Sarasa. If you have difficulty finding it, just follow the delicious smell of freshly roasted coffee beans off Oike Dori Street.
Clamp Coffee Sarasa is one of those magical cafés that transmits tranquility and positive vibes as soon as you enter. Forget how you normally drink your coffee, order either black or white, and choose from the latest freshly roasted specialty coffee beans according to your taste buds. You will be rewarded with an exquisite pour-over that will make you drool! For me, sitting by the window draped in leaves and watching the roaster Tomonori handpick the beans was hands down therapeutic.
67-38 Nishinokyo Shokushicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto
THU - TUE 11:00 - 18:00
Specialty Coffee shops in Osaka
Next stop on the route was Osaka, Tokyos younger, laid-back sister with an edge. Nowhere in Japan has it been easier to start a conversation in a coffee shop, without realizing how fast the time passed by. I wish I had spent more than 4 days in Osaka, had I only known how fascinating it is and what an interesting amount of specialty coffee shops it had. So much to discover! But first things first, coffee lovers should definitely visit an area called "Orange street" or Tachibana-touri, where Osaka's creatives and designers have set up their cafés and shops in a battle to develop the newest fashion and trends.
A few minutes walking from Orange street I came across Giracha Coffee, a bicycle shop with an integrated espresso bar.
Which might look like a take away place could turn into hours of mingling and making new friends. The owners Sayaka Matsuse and her husband are very sociable and community minded people, who might just introduce you to somebody special you would not have met otherwise. They wanted to create an informal atmosphere that is different from Japanese style customer service in that it encourages conversation between strangers. Already the combination of bike shop and café suggests that the creative heads of Giracha are thinking outside the box.
The Head Barista Taira learned his craft from none other than World Latte Art Champion and founder of the Streamer Coffee Company - Hiroshi Sawada, who has since left Japan to open up Sawada Coffee USA in Chicago. Taira himself used to work for Streamer, but when the company underwent some changes, he found his tribe at Giracha, taking Streamer beans with him. To date Streamer Coffee and Giracha are working together to provide quality coffee, which Taira brews on a compact Nuova Simonelli.
1 Chome-21-9 Minamihorie, Nishi Ward
THU - TUE 11:00 - 22:00
LiLo Coffee Roasters
Just a five minute walk from Giracha you can find delicious and exotic specialty grade beans roasted in-house by LiLo Coffee Roasters. The coffee shop reminds a little bit of a laboratory, and it fits only a handful of people. Their motto "small is better" suits the incredible amount of equipment they managed to fit into this tiny space. It's Japanese efficiency at its best! You'll find LiLo have a house blend but take a look at the black board with an extensive selection of single origin beans available as light, medium or dark roasts. You can travel through the flavours of East Timor Kenya, Ethiopia and Nicaragua to the Dominican Republic in less than a day and choose a different brewing method every time. For all their coffee you can pick up small cards with information about origin, taste profile and recommended brewing method. Unfortunately, they were only in Japanese when I visited. LiLo Coffee Roasters do a whole lot though to inform customers about specialty coffee, among others cupping and roasting workshops as well as brewing guides..
1F Shinsaibashi M Building 1-10-28 Nishi-Shinsaibashi, Osaka
THU - TUE 11:00 - 23:00
WED 13:00 - 23:00
Granknot is another Osaka favourite near Orange Street that serves specialty coffee. Their credo is that "Good taste tastes good", a sentence as simple as it is complex. The same goes for the coffee shop, that brings art, industrial design, quality coffee and baked goods to the community. At the time of my visit Granknot was serving their original blend as well as single origins from Ethiopia, Brazil and Indonesia. Their specialty is drip coffee but they do make a mean latte as well. It's the perfect place to hang out at the communal table for a break from the bustling city.
1-23-4 Kitahorie Nishi-ku Osaka
MON - SUN 08:00 - 18:00