Verve Coffee Roasters started life in Santa Cruz, California, before spreading north to San Francisco, south to Los Angeles and then across the Pacific to Japan, with two branches in Tokyo and another in Kamakura. I first came across Verve as a roaster in Café Plume (now Paquebot Mont-Royal) in Montréal, before visiting Verve’s flagship branch on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. The original Tokyo branch is in Shinjuku, a loud, busy place which I briefly visited in July. The second branch, subject of today’s Coffee Spot, opened in April this year. A much more relaxed basement affair under the Rag & Bone Store in Omotesando, I visited twice, first in July, and again on my return in October.
Although a basement, it’s a fairly bright spot. There’s space for a counter down one side, with seating opposite, plus a small seating area at the back. There’s the usual Verve offering, with a blend and daily single-origin on espresso, plus multiple single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. All the coffee, which is roasted in Santa Cruz and air-freighted over, is available to buy in retail bags. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of waffles, all made to order.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Verve Omotesando is located on a quiet street just south Omotesando Avenue and east of the famous Cat Street. It’s in the basement under a narrow two-storey building, home to one of two Tokyo branches of New York clothing chain, Rag & Bone. Although co-branded as Rag & Bone Coffee, make no mistake, this is very much Verve.
There’s a bench outside on the pavement, with access to the basement via a short flight of steps running right to left, leading to a tiny, concrete courtyard. There’s a large window on the left, with a half-timbered glass door inset on the right, together taking up about two-thirds of the width of the store.
Inside, the layout’s simple. The counter’s on the left, the same width as the window, while on the seating’s on the right, starting with a single chair and solitary table by a set of retail shelves against the right-hand wall. The remaining wall is occupied by a single sofa-bench with four small, round tables, chairs on the opposite side. Meanwhile, a large opening in the back wall leads to a second, windowless seating space running the full width of the shop. This has a row of four rectangular two-person tables, chairs either side. One is directly ahead, in line with the opening, another is on the right, while two more are off to the left.
It’s a bright spot, the window being half above street level. It’s only really the rear section that feels like a basement, the spot lights in the ceiling taking over from the natural light. In the front, the natural light is supplemented by three pairs of strip lights running across the width of the shop, plus four light bulbs in large, glass globes hanging above the counter. There’s also air-conditioning, vital on the sweltering summer’s day of my first visit.
There are five single-origins on pour-over, one of which is, unusually for Japan, decaf. Although tempted, particularly since Verve offers a tasting flight, my head was turned by the gorgeous Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine (the Pacific Avenue branch has two!). What’s more, there was the option of a One & One (single espresso and a macchiato) on the menu, which I’d enjoyed in Santa Cruz. If you want to experience the variety of taste a coffee can offer, this is a great option that doesn’t involve consuming too much caffeine. While I don’t think that the market should be skewed towards the coffee geek, I wish more places would offer this option, which is easy enough to do.
I had the single-origin espresso, an Ethiopian Duromina. As an espresso, it was very much a wow moment, not quite a punch in the mouth, but on a hot, sticky, soporific afternoon, very much a wakeup call. A liquid jolt perhaps (with a nod to Alex Stewart, football’s gain, but definitely coffee’s loss). It was gone in two large sips, so don’t ask me for anything nuanced such as tasting notes. All I got was a powerful, but pleasant, acidic kick on the roof of the mouth.
In milk, it was very much tamed, but in a good way, the jolt replaced with a lingering, sweet smoothness. The ratio of coffee to milk was perfect, with enough milk to temper the coffee without dominating it, one of the best coffees with milk I’ve had in Tokyo.
I returned briefly in October (earlier on today, in fact) for a pour-over. I’d have loved to try the flight, but was on my lunch break, instead having a lovely, clean Ethiopian Bokasso, recommended by my barista, who recognised me from my visit in July!
December 2018: Verve Omotesando has won the 2018 Coffee Spot with the Best Basement Award.
|5-12-3 JINGUMAE • SHIBUYA-KU • TOKYO • 150-0001 • JAPAN|
|Monday||10:00 – 19:30||Roaster||Verve (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||10:00 – 19:30||Seating||Tables; Bench (outside)|
|Wednesday||10:00 – 19:30||Food||Waffles|
|Thursday||10:00 – 19:30||Service||Counter|
|Friday||10:00 – 19:30||Payment||Cards, Cash|
|Saturday||10:00 – 19:30||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||10:00 – 19:30||Power||Limited (back room)|
|Chain||International||Visits||16th July, 25th October 2018
4th September 2019
You can also see what I made of all the other Verve Coffee Roasters locations that I’ve visited. Also, if you liked this Coffee Spot, then check out the rest of Tokyo’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Tokyo.
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