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Oct 5, 2013 03:06 PM

"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
February Cafe
Cafe de L'ambre
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.

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  1. In Tokyo you might want to check out Be a Good Neighbor, Onibus, and Obscura.

    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":

      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:

      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.


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


              Omotesando Koffee have a branch in the United Arrows store.


              For tasty brews, pour overs and aeropress coffee:

              Kissa Ashijima, not far from Sanjo Station.


              Songbird, for some design with your coffee.


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


              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 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.,

                    1. re: filmnoirfan

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