My 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.
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.
July 2018: I was sufficiently impressed with Maruyama that I stayed in the same hotel on my return to Tokyo in 2018, popping into Maruyama on a couple of occasions. I can report that it is as lovely as ever.
September 2019: You can see what I made of Maruyama’s coffee shop in Nagano Station, which also does syphon coffee. I also popped back to Nishi Azabu and it’s just as good as ever.
|3-13-3 NISHIAZABU • MINATO-KU • TOKYO • 106-0031 • JAPAN|
|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||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||08:00 – 21:00||Wifi||No|
|Sunday||08:00 – 21:00||Power||No|
|Chain||Regional||Visits||13th April 2017, 21st, 22nd July 2018
13th September 2019
Liked this? Then take a look at the rest of Tokyo’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Tokyo.
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