Japan has a wide, varied coffee culture stretching back to, I believe, the inter-war years. Although Japan has moved with the times, accepting and adapting modern trends in coffee, such as lighter roasting, the old traditions live on. On my first visit in 2017, I wrote about Café de L’Ambre, a traditional Japanese kissaten. I also visited Chatei Hatou (once I’d found it!) but didn’t have a chance to write it up. Since it’s just around the corner from my hotel, it was another place I made a beeline for on my return to Tokyo this week.
The traditional Japanese kissaten is more akin to a bar than a modern coffee shop. Both Chatei Hatou and Café de L’Ambre are long, low, windowless buildings where patrons are still allowed to smoke (although on both my visits Chatei Hatou wasn’t too smoky, perhaps due to the air-conditioning). Only serving pour-over coffee, the best seats are at the counter, where you can watch the coffee being made on a near-continuous basis. Alternatively, there are a number of tables, more cosy two-person ones and some larger, ten-person ones, in the relatively spacious interior. Finally, there’s an impressive range of cakes to tempt you.
I visited Verve’s flagship store on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz at the start of last year, part of my road trip from Phoenix to San Francisco via Los Angeles and the Pacific coast. Santa Cruz, home of Verve Coffee Roasters, which still roasts in the town, was my final stop before the trip ended at San Francisco later that day and, to not visit at least one Verve branch would, have been very remiss of me.
Back then Verve had four branches in Santa Cruz, three in Los Angeles and one in Japan. Since then it’s opened its first San Francisco store (which I missed by a few weeks) and two more in Japan, where I’m headed in two days’ time. Hence my desire to get this published before I go.
The Pacific Avenue branch is lovely, a large, open, high-ceilinged space with twin Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machines, serving a house-blend, guest and decaf, while three Modbar pour-over systems serve multiple options through the Kalita Wave. Finally, if you’re in a hurry, there’s another option on bulk-brew. All the beans (and more) are available in retail bags, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cake.
I didn’t spend long in Hanoi, at the end of my Vietnam trip, so didn’t have much time to explore. I also didn’t have a long list of coffee shops to visit when I arrived. That I found Gấu Coffee Roasters was entirely down to The Caffinet, which in turn I only found following a recommendation from Oriberry Coffee. Sometimes all you need is a list of one…
On a busy road in the northeast of Hanoi’s old city, you really need to know where Gấu Coffee Roasters is, although if you look in the window, you’ll probably be drawn in, particularly if you see the roaster all the way at the back of the long, thin store. All the coffee’s roasted here, with a range of origins, plus home-grown Vietnamese Arabica. There’s a blend on espresso, with multiple single-origins on pour-over through a variety of methods, plus traditional Vietnamese coffee.
Shin Coffee is a small, local roaster/coffee shop chain in the Vietnamese capital, Ho Chi Minh City, which I discovered on my visit there this time last year, it having been recommended to me by Vietnam Coffee Republic. This is one of two branches a few blocks apart in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, where you’ll also find the likes of The Workshop Coffee. Unlike the branch on Nguyễn Thiệp, which is purely a coffee shop, this is the original, dating from 2015, and doubles as the roastery, with a pair of roasters behind a glass wall at the back.
Shin Coffee seems to specialise in long, thin spaces and this is no different. Although not quite as elegant as Nguyễn Thiệp, it’s pretty close and has a very similar look, feel and design, as well as offering the same coffee choices and menu. Shin only roasts Arabica beans, with a range of Vietnamese blends and a few single-origins from both Vietnam and around the world. There’s a traditional espresso-based menu (using a blend of Ethiopian and Vietnamese coffee), along with decaf, plus there’s filter through V60, Syphon, Aeropress and Cafetiere, as well as traditional Vietnamese filter coffee.
This time last year, I was approaching the end of my Vietnamese trip and, reaching my final stop, Hanoi, I found a small but vibrant coffee scene. My hotel had been carefully chosen, in the heart of the old city and around the corner from both Oriberry Coffee and today’s Coffee Spot, RuNam Bistro, although back then it went by the name Càfê RuNam. A national chain, I had somehow missed its four branches in Ho Chi Minh City, including the one on the same street as Shin Coffee. The Hanoi branch came highly recommended though, by no higher authority than both Fancy A Cuppa? and Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato.
RuNam Bistro is a high-end coffee-and-food spot, offering table service and high-quality food from breakfast through lunch to dinner, all accompanied by Vietnamese-grown coffee, roasted in-house, and served in the most elegant surroundings of any coffee shop I visited on my trip. The coffee is available as either espresso or traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter (cà phê phin). There’s a dark-roasted house blend of Arabica and Robusta beans, plus some 100% Arabica beans, including decaf (a rarity in Vietnam), but you have to know to ask, otherwise you will get the house blend.
Like my waistline when I eat their cakes, the Daisy Green/Beany Green chain is rapidly expanding. From its roots as a brunch spot at the original Daisy Green, through its various Beany Green coffee shops, the chain now encompasses everything from cocktails and craft beer to sit-down restaurants, all of which are combined in the (relatively) new Darcie & May Green. Opening late last year, they are a pair of canal boats, moored stern-to-stern on Regent’s Canal , in the heart of my old stomping ground around Sheldon Square. You’ll find them outside the back entrance to Paddington Station (this is the one down the right-hand side of the station by the Hammersmith & City/Circle Line).
May Green is a coffee shop by day and craft beer/cocktail bar by night, while Darcie Green is a restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are joined by a continuous rooftop deck that runs the length of both boats. The coffee, as ever, is by fellow-Aussies, The Roasting Party, with a traditional espresso-based menu available in both May & Darcie Green, while May Green has a takeout window if you need a quick pick-me-up on the way from the station to the office.
Vietnam Coffee Republic is small chain (of two), part of a growing band of speciality coffee shops in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. Like the nearby The Workshop Coffee and the various branches of Shin Coffee, Vietnam Coffee Republic is both roaster and coffee shop. There’s a large coffee shop just around the corner, while this, the VCR Bar & Showroom, is where all the roasting takes place, plus it’s a coffee shop in its own right.
Sheltering under the towering edifice of the Roseland Corp Hotel, the VCR Bar & Showroom is easily missed. There’s more seating outside, a lovely area set back from the road, than there is inside, a wide, shallow space with the roaster at one end behind the counter.
When it comes to coffee, which is all grown in Vietnam, the VCR Bar & Showroom has the same menu as its big sibling, serving four principle blends containing varying ratios of Robusta and Arabica beans, plus a single-origin. These are available as espresso or filter, with options including V60, Aeropress, cafetiere and syphon, plus traditional Vietnamese filter coffee. If you’re hungry, there’s a salad bar, with a range of tasty salads on offer.
When it comes to speciality coffee in Bangkok, one of the pioneers, and one of the few I’d heard about before I reached the city, was Gallery Drip Coffee, recommended by the ever-reliable Simon from Fancy a Cuppa? and featured in his excellent book, Crossing Paths, Crossing Borders. Located inside the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre, Gallery Drip Coffee only serves pour-over coffee (the clue is in the name), a style directly inspired by Japanese coffee culture.
It occupies a weirdly-shaped space inside the atrium of the Centre, with a long counter facing the door, which is where most of the action takes place. There are multiple single-origins on offer, seven while I was there, three of which were from Thailand and the rest from around the world, all roasted in-house. These are made using the V60, while there is also a house-blend of Thai coffee which is made using the Melitta filter and served with steamed milk to provide a latte substitute for those who like their coffee milky. Finally, if you want something sweet to go with your coffee, there’s a wide selection of cheesecakes and their ilk in a cooler cabinet at the end of the counter.
Over Under Coffee is a relatively new name in London’s speciality coffee scene, but one which I’d heard mentioned quite a few times. So, when I had an hour to spare and a desire to escape from the madness that is Piccadilly Circus, I made a beeline for the relative oasis of calm that is Ham Yard, home to the second of Over Under Coffee’s two branches (the other being out in Hammersmith).
It’s a relatively small spot, but that doesn’t stop it from offering an impressive menu. There’s the seasonal espresso from Assembly (which supplies all the coffee) along with a regularly-rotating single-origin on V60, Aeropress or, if you’re in a hurry, there’s a very reasonably-priced batch-brew option. There’s also a decent brunch menu from the kitchen at the back (which stays open until six o’clock), a decent selection of cakes and, on Wednesday to Saturday evenings, cocktails.
I’m currently in Thailand, which, I appreciate, isn’t Vietnam, but the climate and general feel of Thailand very much reminds me of Vietnam, which puts me in mind of my trip there last year. I found a lot of great coffee in Vietnam, including Shin Coffee, a small roaster/coffee shop chain in Ho Chi Minh City. Shin was a recommendation from Vietnam Coffee Republic, which I’d visited the day before. However, on my way there, I’d already spotted Shin and added it to my “should investigate further” list.
Shin had caught my eye from the street, with the rather provocative “speciality coffee” written on the window. Add to this a tagline of “best coffee in town”, this suggests that either it is very, very good, or full of bullshit. Fortunately, it was the former. Shin roasts all its own coffee, all Arabica, including a range of Vietnamese blends and a few single-origins from both Vietnam and around the world. There’s a traditional espresso-based menu (using a blend of Ethiopian and Vietnamese coffee), plus V60, Syphon, Aeropress and Cafetiere, as well as traditional Vietnamese filter coffee. Shin was also the first place I visited in Vietnam that serves decaf.