‘Do one thing, and do it well.’ We hear this phrase time and time again, but in Tokyo’s rapidly-evolving coffee scene, it truly is the raison d’être for many of the industry’s leaders. This pursuit for perfection is found in all hardworking Japanese artisans, often dedicating their entire lives to a single, narrow-focused craft. While many cafés in the West can’t help but expand menus into full-fledged offerings to cater to as many customers as possible, Tokyo isn’t afraid to give coffee the spotlight. In this guide, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a food offering beyond a token sweet treat — so be sure to fill up with a hearty meal elsewhere before exploring one of the most exciting (coffee) cities in the world.
Shake off your jet lag and make LATTEST your first stop — a fixture in the Omotesando coffee scene since 2012. This sister store of the ever-popular Streamer Coffee Company is relaxed and stylish space that has plenty of seating for a quick coffee or a longer work session. LATTEST also features something refreshing in the world of speciality coffee: an all-female team of young and talented baristas with particularly strong skills in latté art.
As the name might imply, espresso is the main focus here, and the milk-based drinks boast a stronger, bolder flavour than those of other common Japanese cafés. Their signature coffee, the eponymous dessert-like ‘Lattest’, is a shot of espresso dashed over cold milk, but everything on the menu is worth a try. Medium and dark roast beans are available, and seasonal drinks are a fun addition to the lineup. All in all, it’s the perfect place to caffeinate before a day of shopping in Harajuku.
3-5-2 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
The newest shop on this list, Leaves Coffee Roasters, opened as a roastery space in late 2018 just across the Sumida River and not far from the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Kuramae. The original coffee stand, Leaves Coffee Apartment, is also nearby, but be sure to make the roastery itself your main destination.
The green-tiled shop is closed to the public during the week, but opens as a café on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. Here, founder Yasuo Ishii and his team serve up coffees thoughtfully presented on small wooden trays labelled with information about your bean of choice. Hand-dripped coffees arrive in wide-mouthed shallow cups, and milk-based espresso drinks are served in rounded, small-mouthed mugs — custom-made for the café to help bring out the best in each sip. The seating inside is minimal — just a couple of long benches running along the front of the warehouse-style interior — and the wide-open doors make it feel halfway between an outdoor and indoor space. Young and old alike come together here with a shared love of coffee, and the sense of community is a welcome oasis in this vast metropolis.
Avenida Miguel Hidalgo 9, Local 10, Coyoacán
While other cafés on this list are relative newcomers to the Tokyo coffee scene, Maruyama Coffee has a rich history dating back to 1991 when president Kentaro Maruyama started a tiny kissaten — a traditional Japanese café — in a resort town near Nagano. Today, this respected brand has expanded to 11 locations across eastern Japan, including three in Tokyo — one being the unique Single Origin Store located in the trendy neighbourhood of Omotesando.
The small and modern two-storey shop combines the quality and variety of speciality coffee with a touch of kissaten elegance. Menus come in the form of printed newspapers, introduc- ing the latest and greatest beans on offer, while also offering plenty of background on the farmers who cultivate them. As with many other traditional Japanese cafés, the syphon brew method is popular here, and it’s a real treat to watch the immaculately uniformed baristas prepare your coffee with unrivalled skill. In fact, three-time Japan Barista Championship winner Miki Suzuki has long been a member of the Maruyama team.
3-14-28 Minami-aoyama, Minato-ku
Coffee fanatics are still mourning the loss of Omotesando Koffee, the famous one-man operation tucked into a quiet Tokyo back- street that shuttered in late 2015. Fortunately, a new concept shop was built in the same location by the same owner just two years later. Run by Eiichi Kunitomo with head barista Takamasa Miki, Koffee Mameya brings a whole new experience not just to the Tokyo coffee scene, but to the world at large.
Mameya in Japanese can be translated to ‘bean shop’, which is essentially all it is. There’s no seating, no food, no milk, and no sugar. It’s simply coffee in its purest form. The results is a stunning space that feels more like a shrine dedicated to the art of making coffee than a café.
If this sounds pretentious, nothing could be further from the truth. Mameya’s charming and attentive baristas perform a consultation of sorts with every customer to help them choose a coffee they’ll love. Nearly 20 different beans from the world’s best coffee roasters are on offer, mapped in order from lightest to darkest roast, making the selection process a little easier. After savour- ing your cup, be sure to take home some beans — a hand-written recipe based on your homebrew method is included. It’s easy to wax lyrical about Koffee Mameya, but it is truly an unforgettable experience that must be witnessed firsthand.
4-15-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
At first glance, Saturdays NYC Tokyo might seem a little out of place on this list. First and fore- most, it’s a fashionable clothing store inspired by American surf shops of the fifties and sixties, with a matching laid-back vibe. Don’t be fooled, though — just past the entrance decorated with hand- shaped surfboards you’ll find a stylish espresso bar and out- door wooden patio, the perfect setting for enjoying a coffee on a sunny day.
Another huge reason to visit is for the chance to be served by 2017 Japan Barista Champion Takayuki Ishitani. Although he’s officially considered a freelance barista, he works here several times a month when not training and sharing his knowledge in Japan and beyond. Takayuki’s humble attitude is rivalled only by his talent and hospitality. Don’t miss the opportunity to try his signature flat white in his own custom-stamped ceramic cups — a truly exceptional drink from one of Japan’s most respected coffee professionals.
1-5-2 Aobadai, Meguro-ku
Hidden on a residential backstreet just 10 minutes from Meguro Station, Switch would be almost impossible to find were it not for its iconic blue door. Inside the tiny space is a wall-mounted ledge for sipping a quick cup, with a bench outside for relaxing a little longer.
After his start in Tokyo, owner Masahiro Onishi further developed his barista skills in Australia before moving back to Japan and working at various shops across the country. His de- sire to start his own venture with a simple focus on serving delicious coffee has now made him one of the most well-known baristas in the city. Hario coffee servers filled with freshly brewed, in-house roasted beans are proudly on display for customers to sample before deciding on their order.
In addition to the usual lattés and cappuccinos, you can also get an espresso tonic if you’re in the mood for something more refreshing. And if you come in the spring, don’t forget that Tokyo’s iconic cherry blossom river is right around the corner.
1-17-23 Meguro, Meguro-ku
Located in the non-touristy neigh- bourhood of Sasazuka in western Shibuya, the pared-back interior of Dear All is simple but beauti- ful. The gorgeously crafted hinoki wood slat benches and ceiling details would feel equally at home in any Scandinavian café. So it’s no surprise that Scandi vibes are also reflected in the coffee — Dear All is an official stockist of La Cabra, the brilliant roastery founded in Aarhus, Denmark.
Co-owner Mei Minemura learned the ins and outs of the barista profession through train- ing under the wing of Takayuki Ishitani, winner of the 2017 Japan Barista Championship, and will happily chat with guests in fluent English to help them choose a coffee they’ll love. Be sure to order one of the irresistible ‘glass desserts’, a seasonal parfait provided by Kitin Tokyo bakery — a visit to Dear All without one just wouldn’t be complete.
1-59-5 Sasazuka, Shibuya-ku
The area of Ryōgoku, most famous for being the heartland of sumo wrestling in Japan, might not conjure up thoughts of speciality coffee. Fortunately, more and more passionate coffee leaders are looking outside Tokyo’s usual trendy neighbourhoods to start something special. A 12-minute walk from the famous Kokugikan sumo arena, the Single O Japan tasting bar is an offshoot of Single O, founded in Australia in 2003. Their slogan, ‘No Death To Coffee’, reflects their effort to create future-friendly coffee sources in the face of increasing demand and climate change.
A visit to Single O is a must to see Yusuke Narisawa, winner of the 2017 Japan Aeropress Championship, in action, but remember: the café is only open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. Oh, and don’t forget to look for sumo wres- tlers in between training sessions along the way.
2-23-2 Kamezawa, Sumida-ku
With its outdoor seating sur- rounded by lush greenery, Onibus Coffee’s Nakameguro location has become increasingly popular with tourists looking to impress follow- ers on their Instagram feeds. Don’t let that deter you, though — the coffee is, of course, the real star. Located just five minutes from Nakameguro station, this café is the perfect stop if you’re on your way to see the famous cherry blossoms along the Meguro River.
The first-floor interior is re- served for employees only, so order at the front, grab a modest bench seat along the side, and watch the baristas attend to the hand-dripped coffee in the window and the roasters at work in the back. If you prefer to sit inside and watch the nearby trains zip by, the second floor features a rustic, charming café space decorated with plants and coffee sacks with a uniquely Japanese feel — a welcome change if minimalism isn’t your thing.
2-14-1 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku
Situated just seven minutes from Jimbōchō Station, Glitch Coffee & Roasters has been a welcome addition to the retro neighbour- hood’s plentiful selection of long-established kissaten. The quiet street-corner location was chosen with this connection to the past in mind — the charm of Jimbocho’s famous used book- stores and old-style Shōwa era eateries set the area apart from the kinds of places you’d typically expect to find such modern speci- ality cafés.
The simple, open interior allows customers to sit within reach of the ‘shared’ coffee roaster, a concept that offers smaller cafés the chance to work with Glitch to roast their own beans and develop signature tastes. Despite Tokyo being the largest city in the world, its tightly knit coffee community treats each other as friends and peers, not rivals, lifting each other up along the way. Order a lightly roasted single origin pour over and take in the Tokyo of the past.
3-16 Kanda Nishikicho, Chiyoda-ku
Want to have this guide in print, on your coffee table, or perhaps in your rucksack on your way to Tokyo? You’re in luck: this story first appeared in the printed edition of Lagom #10, whch is available to purchase from our online shop and from stockists around the world.Buy Lagom #10