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"Serious" Coffee Shops in Japan

There is a thread about espresso to go, one about coffee supplies, and another about coffee beans, but I couldn't find one about coffee shops.

During my next visit to Japan (whenever that may be), I'd like to add a coffee taste test to my list of things to do (to date, I've done croissant, Neapolitan-style pizza, and macaron taste tests)--can be espresso-based coffee shops, or "regular" coffee shops. Chain shops (one of my favourite shops in the Kansai area is Hiro and it's a chain) are OK, too (except for Starbucks, Seattle's Best, Doutor and the like).

In Tokyo, of the "serious" shops, I've only been to Omotesando Koffee which I quite enjoyed. Also on my list (for Tokyo) are:
Bear Pond
Kitsune
Streamer
Nozy
Sarutahiko
Fuglen
February Cafe
Cafe de L'ambre
Yanaka
Irukaya (reservation only--one of the owners of a local-to-me coffee shop told me about it)

If I get back to Kurashiki, I'd like to visit Coffee-Kan again.

Don't know where to go in the Kansai area (other than Hiro).

Any suggestions to add to my list?

Or are there any you would delete?

I'm particularly interested in hearing about Irukaya. Sounds interesting. http://travel.cnn.com/fine-art-perfec...

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  1. In Tokyo you might want to check out Be a Good Neighbor, Onibus, and Obscura. http://www.bento.com/r-kiss.html

    2 Replies
      1. re: Gargle

        thanks for pointing that out. it's part of a slick new shopping complex under the JR tracks, about three minutes from akihabara station. there are a few seats out front, but it's mostly for takeout and beans.

    1. Wow, good luck with Irukaya! The guy sounds like he is a strong contender for Tanaka-san of Bear Pond's "dogmatic coffee brewer" crown.

      You can make a reservation, but STRICT rules apply:

      First you must read the "manner rules":
      http://yubisaki.exblog.jp/12502033/

      No photography in or outside of the shop - he takes pains to spell out the copyright laws. No mobile phones to be used inside the shop. No smoking. No breathing. No joy... Okay I added the last two.

      The shop only has 4 seats, so reservations can not be made for more than two people. For new customers reservations must be made days, or preferably weeks in advance. You can not make a reservation on the day you wish to visit, or the previous day. You must also ring at least 15 minutes before you arrive. You can not be late - more than 20 mins is considered a cancellation.

      All coffee is served demitasse size, but a different style can be ordered 'by arrangement'. One cup costs ¥1,300, but if you want to order two the price goes up to ¥2,800 (the total price for your first and second cup) - he says its because of demand for seats. He also serves Scottish whisky... which you might need after dealing with this guy.

      There is a long blurb about the ordering system. From what I can gather, you need to have one order within one hour... Basically don't linger.

      Here is the link with the full details:

      http://yubisaki.exblog.jp/12501991/

      3 Replies
      1. re: wekabeka

        If you read the article to which I linked, it kind of sounds even worse. He told the writer he needed to take a certain length of time to drink his coffee--no more, no less was the impression of the writer. Also, you cannot call outside of business hours.

        But you can visit the day you call if there is space (at least the writer did), and you can order more than one cup of coffee (then you get two whole hours!) if it's not too busy. No whiskey unless you order coffee, too.

        @Robb S--I'll add those to my google map. Thanks!

        1. re: prasantrin

          Yes I read the article: Nick Coldicott - figures. He tends to revel in the obscure.

          But that story was written in Nov last year, and Irukaya's policy for new customers changed this year on August 1st, so I wouldn't attempt a same day, or previous day reservation. Irukaya's website is very particular about this point - a consequence of Nick's article, perhaps?

          Looks like it would definitely be an 'experience'. Let us know how it is.

        2. re: wekabeka

          What a crackup. This guy makes Zim look like a sweet old lady.

        3. If you're interested in espresso than Bear Pond should be at the top of your list, as it is completely different than any espresso I've ever had anywhere before. Fuglen should be on the list too, but as much for atmosphere as for espresso.

          Fouqet's in Futakotamagawa is also excellent for nel-drip coffee. (The same style as prepared at Irukaya.)

          In Osaka go to Mill Pour in Shinsaibashi.

          Kyoto has some excellent, excellent cafes, though most of them are not serving espresso. There's one particularly good siphon place around town--can dig up the name. There's a recent and pretty interesting academic book on the subject of cafe culture in Japan which lists many of the best cafes in Kyoto. I used that as a guide.

          3 Replies
          1. re: tjdnewyork

            You neglected to mention the author and the title of the book you referred to.

            1. re: tjdnewyork

              Thanks! I might have to pick up that book before my next trip.

              I've never really searched out good coffee in Osaka. That's a shame as I'm sure there are some good places. I'll have a look for Mill Pour next time I'm there (when I last lived in Japan, I did a chocolat chaud taste test around the Kansai area and one of my favourites was in Osaka, but I never got around to doing a coffee taste test).

            2. Here is a list of places I've been to over the years in Kyoto. Hopefully you'll find a coffee fix that suits you.

              Unir, near City Hall, is my nominee for best espresso in town. It was recommended to me by Kenji, the coffee maestro at Fuglen.

              http://tabelog.com/kyoto/A2602/A26020...

              Inoda Coffee is the classic destination for espresso. I love the retro vibe of the Sanjo shop. The Kiyomizudera shop is pretty, but crowded.

              http://tabelog.com/kyoto/A2602/A26020...

              Omotesando Koffee have a branch in the United Arrows store.

              http://tabelog.com/kyoto/A2602/A26020...

              For tasty brews, pour overs and aeropress coffee:

              Kissa Ashijima, not far from Sanjo Station.

              http://ashijima.com

              Songbird, for some design with your coffee.

              http://tabelog.com/kyoto/A2602/A26020...

              Kissa and Tsukitorokupensu were recommended by Kenji. Sadly I didn't get to the later.

              http://tabelog.com/kyoto/A2602/A26020...

              Plus dozens of old school kissaten, which are as enjoyable for their trip-slip atmosphere as they are for coffee: Yamatoya (also a whisky bar), Otafuku Coffee, Smart Coffee (get the hot cakes!), and Rokuyosha.

              1 Reply
              1. re: wekabeka

                thanks for the Kyoto suggestions!

                I completely forgot about Inoda--I don't know how I could have. They are a must-visit on every trip (even when I lived in Nishinomiya and Tochigi, every time I hit Kyoto, I'd go to Inoda), and I have bought a lot of very popular omiyage from them.

              2. This may be a stupid question, but are any of these coffee shops open in the morning for to-go coffee? It seems that a lot of these coffee places are sit down places. We are just looking for a place where you can get a cup of coffee to go, but not Starbucks.

                3 Replies
                1. re: krystle920

                  Yes, they all have coffee to go.

                  The page I linked to http://www.bento.com/r-kiss.html lists the hours for every single shop.

                  1. re: Robb S

                    Looks interesting. I do wonder though, whether others are aware that the links you often provide are to a website you founded and/or operate (i.e., bento.com).

                    1. re: filmnoirfan

                      I'm pretty certain the "regulars" all know it. Makes no never mind to me--bento.com is a great resource.

                2. The Roastery is a spacious and comfortable new spot located on Cat Street between Shibuya and Harajuku. All their beans are single-origin from Nozy in Sangenjaya/Mishuku, and they only serve espresso, cafe latte and Americano.

                  http://bento.com/rev/4305.html

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Robb S

                    Feels super corporate to me (although not as bad as the BBQ place upstairs), but it's good not to have to trek all the way out to Nozy.

                  2. Thanks for all the replies so far!

                    I'm going to add them all to a google map--would there be any interest here in seeing it? I'd be happy to share it with y'all (though it will take awhile to get it done--too much other stuff to do right now!).

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: prasantrin

                      New addition - Switch Coffee in Meguro.

                    2. If you are ever back in kurashiki there are some serious coffee shops in neighbouring okayama as well.

                      I will have to find the business card for the one place, as I forget the name

                      1. FYI for those in Japan, the October issue of Brutus magazine is a big round-up of what looks to be "serious" coffee shops – not just in Tokyo, but also in the Kansai area:
                        http://magazineworld.jp/books/all/?go...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mleco

                          It's actually a reissue of last year's edition with updates, at the front, of newly opened stores. Quite impressive to see how many coffee specialist that have sprung up in the past 12 months.

                        2. Daibo hadn't yet made this thread, but was mentioned in a thread about coffee beans. It's closing (or has closed?) soon, so if it hasn't closed yet, anyone want to give it a try and report? Just so I can live vicariously ...

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: prasantrin

                            Closes tomorrow (Dec 23rd). There goes another great, smoker-friendly coffee institution. I expect a Gen Y cafe franchise, serving latte art & pancakes, will sprout up in its place.

                            1. re: wekabeka

                              I suspect another luxury clothing or accessory store.

                              i forgot to post the link to the article i read.

                              http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2013/daibo/

                              "But the building his kissa occupies is being swallowed by the encroaching luxury of Omotesando and Aoyama; with a new owner, rents will either skyrocket, or the building will be destroyed."

                              1. re: wekabeka

                                And that said Gen Y franchise will close six months after opening, with karma being what it is.

                                That's too bad about Daibo, never went, even though it stared me in the face for years, classic Japan, it's all beneath the surface. I'd go today, but don't want to seem like an arriviste at a funeral of somebody who I didn't know but should have.

                            2. I really liked Be a Good Neighbor, Fuglen, Little Nap, and Paddlers Coffee at Life Son restaurant. All are in shibuya area.

                              1. In case it's more convenient for some reason, Be A Good Neighbor will be opening a third location in Ark Hills on January 13th.

                                1. I really like Be a good neighbor, wasnt impressed by Bear Pond at all, I felt like my amateur barista ass could have pulled better shots.

                                  1. To start up this thread again, I hit Streamer, Omotesando
                                    Koffee and Sarutahiko on my most recent trip.

                                    Omotesando is a lovely spot, not so sure on the coffee.

                                    Streamer was really poor. The place looked and smelled right, unfortunately the coffee wasn't. The shots were burnt and bitter.

                                    Sarutahiko will now be my go to spot. Great coffee; not to the heights of BPE but unlike BPE the staff are friendly, helpful and without attitude.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: kersizm

                                      There's another Streamer family outlet now - close to Tsukiji market - it's called Turret Coffee and while it's the only espresso / latte option around there (and thus better than nothing), it still doesn't make me like Streamer any better.

                                      1. re: Gargle

                                        Yes, but only for takeout. Coffee was good, as was the service. But I couldn't help thinking it was very much derivative of Fuglen's coffee and cocktail concept... minus the style. White Russian made with Starbucks coffee liqueur - yeah, no thanks.

                                        1. re: wekabeka

                                          Thanks. I was looking at pics this morning (while at Fuglen) and wondering if it's derivative or a different take on the concept. (the pics make it look kissaten/old-japanese-bar-ish with an espresso machine)

                                          1. re: Gargle

                                            I went last October, not long after it opened. If they were going for an old school kissaten/bar aesthetic then it's a definite fail. Full disclosure: I'm the sake consultant at Fuglen, so I have an obvious bias. (^_−)−☆

                                            1. re: wekabeka

                                              As far as I know, Fuglen only serves the Norwegian-made sake from Nøgne Ø, which is made by a good friend of mine. Do they have other Japanese-made sakes? I have a lot of stories about how my Norwegian friend ended up making sake.

                                              1. re: Tripeler

                                                Yes, Fuglen sells Nøgne Ø's Hadaka Jima sake. I haven't had the chance to meet Kjetil yet, but I've got enormous respect for the man and his vision. Fuglen also has a seasonal flight of local sake - next one will be launched in April. http://www.ichi-forthemichi.com/categ...

                                              2. re: wekabeka

                                                Hey wekabeka, did you read the article in this week's NYT T magazine about Fuglen? I guess those three hipsters are really getting traction, good for them. They even mention their landlord.

                                                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                                  Ha ha! Yes, I read the article - some NZ woman managed to sneak her way into the story, too. (^_−)

                                                  Back to the topic of this post: Am doing a coffee sanpo along the Meguro line. Onibus is as good as ever. Love the beans he roasts and the friendly service. Amameria is still my favourite in the area - got to love a place that offers a flat white on the menu. Both are definitely worth seeking out.

                                                  1. re: wekabeka

                                                    Wekabeka - Amameria is one of my favorites, too. I really like the atmosphere there.

                                                    If you're travelling along the Meguro line, have you tried Switch Coffee (right around the corner from Beard) yet? It's worth checking out, too - a good variety of beans, and a lot of care for the roasting process.

                                                    1. re: Hent03

                                                      Haven't made it to Switch yet, but I live in the area so will check it out next weekend. Thanks for reminding me.

                                                      1. re: Hent03

                                                        Tried Switch last November and although I liked what the seemed to be doing with their bean selection and roasting, I didn't like the process. Could be that particular roast/bean combo wasn't to my taste. I haven't tried Onibus or Amameria yet. Any others in Meguro to try? I also want to try Parking coffee near Daikanyama.

                                                      2. re: wekabeka

                                                        Yes, on a second more careful read did catch that about some Kiwi sake pusher behind the counter!

                                            2. Hitinui - an awkward space even by Tokyo standards - this is La Marzocco placed in a very small lobby of a Tahitian dance school in Daikanyama. The beans are a proprietary blend from Amameria, the results are excellent. Recommended, but don't plan on lingering.