Blue Bottle Coffee, Aoyama

The remains of my single-origin Kenyan pour-over in a glass mug, as served in Blue Bottle in the Aoyama district of Tokyo.Blue Bottle Coffee is something of an institution in California, with numerous outlets in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. From its base, Blue Bottle has spread both east, with branches on the east coast, ranging from Miami to Boston, and west, where it’s crossed the Pacific Ocean to Japan, with branches in Kobo, Kyoto and as of 2019, fourteen in Tokyo.

My relationship with Blue Bottle in the US has been a bit hit and miss, liking some places, but not others. However, based on my limited experience in Tokyo, I’m smitten by Blue Bottle in Japan. The branch in Aoyama was around the corner from my office when I visited in April last year, one of a cluster of excellent coffee shops, all within easy walking distance of the office, that include Japanese café/roaster Sarutahiko Coffee and two further foreign-influenced coffee shops, Coutume and Café Kitsuné, both of whom have their roots in Paris.

Blue Bottle serves a single-origin and blend on espresso, with another single-origin and blend on pour-over, plus two more single-origins on syphon. There’s also a concise breakfast/lunch menu and a selection of cakes. Of all the places I visited in Japan, it is the most American in terms of service and style.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Down a narrow alley in Tokyo's Aoyama district, an A-board catches the eye. Blue Bottle?
  • But where is it? That looks like a clothing store to me.
  • However, if you look up, you'll see, peeking out of the trees, a balcony.
  • The concrete pillar gives the game away. Blue Bottle is upstairs.
  • Up these stairs, in fact. A long way up, as it turns out, another A-board pointing the way.
  • The view back down the stairs from the top.
  • At the top, there's a shletered balcony to your right, the door opening into Blue Bottle.
  • You are immediately faced by the till where you order...
  • ... while Blue Bottle stretches out ahead and to the right of you as seen in this panorama.
  • A view back towards the door/tills. During my visits, Blue Bottle was perpetually busy.
  • Behind/to the right as you enter is a standalone retail counter which is easy to miss.
  • There's some more seating ehre in the shape of stools/tables...
  • ... and beyond/behind that, a standing bar against the concrete of the left-hand wall.
  • The remaining seating is stretched out along the front part of Blue Bottle.
  • It starts with this narrow, 14-person communal table, set well back from the counter.
  • Another view of the communal table, next to the door to the balcony (more of which later).
  • Beyond the end of the table are two rows of two-person tables with chairs...
  • ... seen here looking back towards the door from the other side.
  • I really appreciated the large gap between counter and seating.
  • Finally there's a slightly raised seating area in a windowless alcove at the right-hand end.
  • This has padded cushion seats around the three walls, with more seats in the middle.
  • One of the padded seats against the front wall in a rare, unoccupied moment.
  • However, perhaps the best part is the long, thin balcony that runs along the front.
  • If you can't get a seat at one of the tables or the bench, how about one of these?
  • You can stand at one of these little tables projecting from the balustrade...
  • ... and admire the tree-filled courtyard below.
  • Back inside, there are beans galore for sale at the retail counter by the door.
  • There's also a range of coffee-making equipment at the top...
  • .. and lots more at the bottom, including Blue Bottle's own-design pour-over cones.
  • Nice display!
  • The counter, in a rare quiet moment...
  • ... and seen here from the front. You have no idea how long I had to wait to get this shot!
  • You start at the tills facing the door. There are menus here, plus models of the food/cake!
  • There's also a menu hanging above the counter.
  • There's a small syphon station next to the till...
  • ... but the majority of the coffee operation is around the corner, starting with pour-over.
  • Sadly, it's counter-service, so you have to collect your coffee once it's been made.
  • At the far end are the lovely, low-slung lines of the Kees van der Westen espresso machine.
  • Mind you, if you linger by the till, you get a good view of it in action...
  • ... while you can also watch the kitchen staff at work behind the counter.
  • On my first visit, I called in for a quick coffee to go during an office break.
  • I went for a cappuccino in my Sol Cup, made with the single-origin Brazil Faf Jose Ferreira.
  • It was easily one of the best of the whole trip!
  • Later I returned for lunch, selecting the Blue Bottle breakfast toast.
  • I paired this with a Kenyan single-origin pour-over.
  • Watching the barista at work at the pour-over bar is a thing of beauty.
  • My coffee, served in a large, glass mug.
  • It tasted just as good cold, and looked even better.
  • I'll leave you with the gorgeous colours and the light it cast on the table.
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Down a narrow alley in the Aoyama business/shopping district, you’ll find Blue Bottle above the Cabane de Zucca clothing store, accessed via an external flight of concrete stairs on the left. After quite a climb, you reach a small, sheltered landing with an automatic, sliding glass door to your right. This leads you to the back of Blue Bottle, while the front faces the street, a balcony overlooking a tree-filled courtyard.

Long and thin, the back is occupied by a generous counter, with the open-plan kitchen behind, occupying maybe two-thirds of the store’s width. You order to the left, dual tills facing the door, menu hanging above them. There are also printed menus on the counter, along with models of the items from the breakfast/lunch menu. Immediately to your right, and easy to miss, since it’s effectively behind you, is a separate retail counter selling beans and coffee-making equipment.

The front of the store, plus a large alcove at the right-hand end, is devoted to seating. This starts with a standing bar against the left-hand wall, followed by some low, round cushion seats with small, round coffee tables by the retail counter. A long, thin, high communal table with 14 high stools runs lengthways in front of the counter but set well forward, leaving plenty of space for those waiting to collect their coffee. Beyond the communal table/end of the counter, are two short rows of two-person tables, running front-to-back. At the far right-hand end there’s a slightly raised area with square cushion seats running around all three walls, lined by small, round coffee tables, with more seating, in the shape of further square cushions, in the centre, arranged around large, wooden cylinders which act as tables.

However, possibly the best part is outside, where a narrow balcony runs almost the full width of Blue Bottle. Split into three bays by two concrete pillars, the first bay has a bench-seat at the left-hand end, while the remaining bays have their own two-person square tables. Alternatively, the middle and left-hand bays have three wooden tables built into the balcony’s balustrade where you can stand with your coffee and admire the foliage.

The interior is minimalist, verging on the austere, with plenty of clean lines, (mostly) concrete floor, walls and (very high) ceiling. There’s plenty of natural light: with windows between the pillars at the front, and although it can be loud when busy, the bustle stops the minimalism from being too severe.

The counter has a small syphon station next to the till, but most of the coffee is along the front, starting with a seven-station brew-bar, using Blue Bottle’s own-design pour-over cones, and ending with a low-slung Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine. Sadly, the American influence comes through with counter service, but at least here you’re given a ticket with your name and a number on it so you can match up your coffee at the counter, which means the baristas don’t have to holler your name.

Opening in 2015, this was the second Blue Bottle in Tokyo, the chain having grown to seven by the time of my first visit (and 14 by 2019!). There’s a single-origin on espresso with a different single-origin on pour-over, which change every couple of weeks. On my first visit, a quick coffee-break excursion from the office, I had a cappuccino made with the single-origin espresso a Brazil Faf Jose Ferreira. This was gorgeous in milk, really chocolatey, with hints of caramel. Very rich and smooth, it was one of the best of my trip.

I returned for a more leisurely lunch later in the week, selecting the Blue Bottle breakfast toast: an enormous slice of Japanese toast with a cylinder taken out of the middle into which is placed a poached egg. The resulting bread hole, is served (toasted) to the side. There’s also a dollop of smashed avocado and a hint of cheesiness on top of the toast. All-in-all, an interesting twist on poached egg & avocado on toast and quite delicious.

I paired this with a Kenyan single-origin pour-over. This smelled gorgeous, with beautiful floral notes, while in the cup, it was well-balanced, smooth, subtle, fruity. It tasted just as good as it cooled, holding its own even when cold.

2017 – 2019: due to its location just around the corner from my office, I’ve visited Blue Bottle on every one of my Japanese trips. I can confirm that the coffee is still every bit as good!

September 2019: you can see what I made of Blue Bottle’s Nakameguro location, the fifth to open in Tokyo.

3-13-14 MINAMIAOYAMA • MINATO-KU • TOKYO • 107-0062 • JAPAN +81 (0) 3-5413-5380
Monday 08:00 – 19:00 Roaster Blue Bottle Japan (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 19:00 Seating Tables, Bars, Benches
Wednesday 08:00 – 19:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 19:00 Service Counter (Order at Counter for food)
Friday 08:00 – 19:00 Payments Cards + Cash
Saturday 08:00 – 19:00 Wifi No
Sunday 08:00 – 19:00 Power No
Chain International Visits 19th, 21st April 2017, 16th July, 23rd October 2018
2nd – 4th, 9th September 2019, 8th November 2019

If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, then take a look at the rest of Tokyo’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Tokyo.

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