Maruyama Coffee, Nishi Azabu

Detail from the sign above the door of Maruyama Coffee's branch in Nishi AzabuMy first Tokyo coffee experience was down, in part, to the excellent Commodities Connoisseur and also to serendipity. Having done very little planning for this trip, I had picked my hotel for the first part of my stay almost at random. On arrival, I was delighted to discover that it was across the road from one of Commodities Connoisseur’s recommendations, Maruyama Coffee.

Maruyama Coffee is a roaster based in Karuizawa in the mountains northwest of Tokyo and founded in 1991 by Kentaro Maruyama. Nishi Azabu is the sixth store, one of three in Tokyo. It’s a lovely space, with plenty of seating and full table service. Although not a traditional Japanese coffeehouse (as I understand them to be), it was a very Japanese experience, far removed from the typical (western) third-wave café.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is the vast array of coffee on offer, which can be had principally through the humble cafetiere, although there are also options for Steampunk, Cores pour-over cones and espresso. If you are hungry, there is a small breakfast menu (08:00 – 10:00) and a decent selection of cake. There’s also a huge retail section, including beans, coffee-making equipment and a range of other products.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Maruyama Coffee's branch in Nishi Azabu looks rather small at first...
  • ... although a glance to the right gives a hint that all may not be as it seems.
  • Meanwhile, the A-board in the window confirms that we've at least come to the right place.
  • You enter into a little lobby-like structure with seating on the left...
  • ... and retail shelves at the back.
  • However, to the right, where I thought there might be a takeaway counter, is this...
  • Stepping through, you begin to realise the fulll extent of Maruyama Coffee.
  • Immediately to the left of the door is the cash desk. You can order takeaway here.
  • Beyond this is a retail area.
  • There's a table to the left, leaden with goodies...
  • ... and rows of shelves on the walls, full of bags of coffee.
  • However, Maruyama Coffee keeps on going!
  • Beyond the retail area, there's seating in the form of this communal table...
  • ... and these four, small round tables in the windows at the front.
  • There's also a display cabinet at the far end.
  • That's not all though. Behind the retail area, there's even more seating.
  • Wait here, just past the cash desk, and one of the staff will come and seat you.
  • The large space extends back from the retail area with the counter on the left...
  • ... and the seating on the right.
  • Right at the back is a row of square tables by a bench along the walll
  • There are small, round tables with comfortable chairs up against the right-hand walll...
  • ... and more in the centre of the seating area.
  • There's very little natural light back here, so naturally I was fascinated by the light-fittings.
  • I also appreciated the tiles.
  • More of the lights at the back.
  • 1950, Made in France (which is the bit you can't see in the glare).
  • As well as pretty lights, there are elegant coat stands.
  • There's lots of things for sale on the retail shelves, including coffee making gear.
  • However, it's not all coffee-related.
  • For example, there's chocolate. Single-origin, of course.
  • Check out the cute, wooden grinders. They're very compact, but the burrs are ceramic.
  • Other products include cascara, reassuring given the current problems it's having in the UK.
  • There's lots of coffee on sale too, including this selection of decaf.
  • In fact, when it comes to coffee, Maruyama is very serious, even having its own paper.
  • While I was there, you could taste three of the coffees from the Elitel Coffee Project.
  • Manuyama is very proud of its baristas' achievements, including these trophies in the lobby.
  • Plus this one which takes pride of place in the display cabinet.
  • Enough of all this talk. Let's have some coffee. For once, the counter's not the focal point.
  • Instead, you are given an extensive menu with pages of coffee to choose from!
  • I ended up going for the first one on the list though, the Bonilla Red Honey.
  • My coffee in the cup.
  • I returned the following day for a cappuccino made with a naturally-processed Geisha.
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Even though I knew where Maruyama Coffee was, I missed it at first, only catching it on a second pass. From the outside, it looks like a hole-in-the-wall and nothing more than that, tucked away above a gym on the ground floor of a large, multi-storey building. However, step inside and it’s soon apparent that this is far from a hole-in-the-wall operation.

You enter to the far left of Maruyama, with what I took to be the hole-in-the-wall in fact being a lobby, with a simple, square layout, retail shelves at the back and limited seating to the left. To the right a gap in the wall leads to a much larger space, starting with a cash desk, where you can order takeaway coffee. Otherwise, visit the cash desk on your way out, which is when you’ll pay, a remarkably civilised procedure.

The main space is split into the two, front and back. Stretching away ahead of you at the front is the retail section, with a table to the left and a massive set of retail shelves to the right. Beyond this there is some seating, including a long, communal table and four round, two-person tables in the windows at the front.

The main seating, however, is at the back. Return to the cash desk and one of the staff will come and seat you, although generally you get to select your table. The counter is off to the left, with no fewer than four Steampunk machines next to a hulking Nuova Simonelli espresso machine. However, since Maruyama offers full table service, there’s never any reason to go up there.

You have a choice of a pair of low, three-seat sofas facing each other across a coffee table in the centre of the room, followed by two round tables, each with a pair of comfy chairs. Alternatively, there are four more against the right-hand wall, while a padded bench seat runs across the back wall with four square two-person tables and one four-person one. There’s not a lot of natural light back here, but the whole place exudes elegance, with a refined, peaceful atmosphere and quiet piano music in the background.

Once seated, a glass of water arrives (and is regularly topped up), along with a menu. You also get a square, woven box to put your things in (coats, bags) to save you having to put them on the floor. As I said, elegant and refined.

The menu is quite a beast. The Commodities Connoisseur reckoned at least 50 choices and, after flicking through multiple pages of the menu, I was inclined to go with his estimate rather than to count them myself. The menu starts with several pages of coffee available through the cafetiere, which seems to be the default method. These are split into several categories, including the Elite Coffee Project (ECP), Community Supported Coffee and Grand Cru Series. These are all single-origins, named, interestingly, by the grower, followed by the cultivar and then the process, eschewing the normal process of listing the country/region of origin.

These include several Geishas and all come with price-tags to match (typically £6 – £7). After this come the more “ordinary” single-origins, as well as decaf, before moving onto blends. There is are also filter options, made using Cores pour-over cones (a choice of three) or the Steampunk machine (a choice of two). Finally there’s espresso, with a choice of house-blend (described as dark and bitter), a guest single-origin and a decaf.

Ironically, given the choice, I ended up with the first one ono the menu, from the ECP range, a Bonilla Red Honey from Costa Rica. The cafetiere is brewed and then plunged before being brought to your table along with a classic china cup. Half the coffee is poured out for you, the rest left in the cafetiere, although given the attentive service, I was half expecting a waitress to come along and pour out the remainder for me when I’d drained my cup.

It really was an excellent cup of coffee, though, with good body, but with a light, refreshing taste. On my return the following morning, I had a cappuccino using the guest single-origin, another ECP (Juan Ramon Geisha Natural). This was rich (from the coffee) and creamy (from the beautifully-steamed milk), the two naturally complimenting each other.

In closing, let me say that I adored Maruyama. It’s the sort of upmarket, refined coffee shop that seems to be utterly lacking in the UK. We have upmarket, refined places that serve distinctly average coffee and places which, while serving excellent coffee, are firmly in the third-wave coffee shop mould. Maruyama is a different class altogether and an excellent start to my exploration of the Tokyo coffee scene.

3-13-3 NISHIAZABU • MINATO-KU • TOKYO • 106-0031 • JAPAN
www.maruyamacoffee.com +81 (0)3-6804-5040
Monday 08:00 – 21:00 Roaster Maruyama Coffee (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 21:00 Seating Tables, Comfy Chairs
Wednesday 08:00 – 21:00 Food Breakfast, Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 21:00 Service Table
Friday 08:00 – 21:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 08:00 – 21:00 Wifi No
Sunday 08:00 – 21:00 Power No
Chain Local Visits 13th April 2017

You can see what the Commodities Connoisseur made of Maruyama Coffee in Part 4 of his excellent Tokyo coffee series.


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