About Brian Williams

Author of Brian's Coffee Spot, you can read all about me in the "About Me" section of the blog (www.brian-coffee-spot)

Blue Bottle Coffee, Shinagawa Station

My decaf pour-over at Blue Bottle Coffee in Shinagawa Station, Tokyo.Blue Bottle Coffee at Shinagawa Station is its sixth (of currently 14) locations in Tokyo, opening at the end of 2016, just after the Nakameguro branch. I discovered it on my first visit to Japan in April 2017, when I based myself near the station, catching the bullet trains on a daily basis as I explored Japan. As a result, it became a regular calling point first thing in the morning, with a pre-departure cappuccino to go in my SoL Cup. Since then, I’ve made a point of popping by whenever I’m changing trains in the station (which, admittedly, hasn’t been very often).

Despite being a station coffee shop, Blue Bottle, following the best traditions of Japanese station coffee shops such as Ogawa Coffee at Kyoto Station and Maruyama Coffee at Nagano Station, has a full offering in line with most other Blue Bottle locations in the city, although it lacks the extensive food offerings of the Aoyama coffee shop. The seasonal Hayes Valley blend is on espresso, along with a regularly-changing single-origin, while there’s a dedicated filter blend, different a single-origin and decaf on pour-over. There’s also a strong retail offering, plus a small range of cakes and snacks.

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Maruyama Coffee Experiences

A single-origin espresso served in a wide-brimmed demitasse cup at Maruyama Single Origin in Aoyama, Tokyo, part of an espresso set where the same coffee is served in two different cups.Earlier this week, I wrote about the Maruyama Single Origin store in Aoyama, one of my favourite after-work haunts when I’m working in Tokyo. It’s a lovely coffee shop in its own right, offering the sort of high-end service that I’ve come to expect from visits to other Maruyama locations, such as Nishi Azabu and Nagano Station. However, the single origin store goes one step further, with the focus even more firmly on the coffee.

As well as only serving single-origins (a typical Maruyama will have seven different blends), there are delights such as an espresso and cappuccino set (effectively a split shot or one-and-one) and, a new one on me, the same espresso served in two different cups. About the only thing that Maruyama Single Origin doesn’t offer is a filter tasting flight, but since there are always four or five samples for you try on the downstairs counter, it’s almost the same thing.

Naturally, I had to indulge, and, over the span of several visits, I put these various coffee experiences through their paces. Rather than try to cram them all into my write-up of Maruyama Single Origin, I decided to dedicate this Saturday Supplement to my experiences.

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Ratio &C

Some lovely latte art in my latte at Ratio &C, part of the Onibus chain in Tokyo.Ratio &C is part of Tokyo-based coffee shop/roaster chain, Onibus, which started in Okusawa, where it’s still going strong (and which, naturally, I’ve not yet visited). There are now five shops, including the original Nakameguro roastery/coffee shop, a new roastery/coffee shop in Yakumo, and Shibuya’s About Life Coffee Brewers. And, of course, today’s Coffee Spot, Ratio &C, a lovely coffee bar inside a cycle shop.

Ratio &C is a few minutes’ walk from my hotel, which is how I came to visit it when in Tokyo last October as part of my around the world trip. Back then, I’d have described Ratio &C as a classic coffee bar in cycle shop, but on my return last week, I found that the coffee shop had expanded a little, with more seating and less emphasis on the cycling. It’s a very peaceful environment, the ideal post-work spot where I could catch up with things before retiring to my hotel for the evening.

There’s the standard Onibus offering, with the Step blend on espresso for milk-based drinks. It’s also available on pour-over, along with another blend and a seasonal selection of single-origins, one of which is available on espresso each day.

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Maruyama Single Origin

Detail from the sign above the door of Maruyama Coffee's branch in Nishi AzabuIf you’ve been keeping up with my adventures in Japan over the last two years, you’ll know that Maruyama Coffee, the regional chain from Nagano prefecture, holds a special place in my heart. My first ever coffee in Japan was at Maruyama in Nishi Azabu, while more recently I’ve visited Maruyama in Nagano Station. Today’s Coffee Spot is Maruyama Single Origin, a relatively recent addition, which opened last year in Tokyo’s Aoyama neighbourhood.

Maruyama Single Origin occupies a small, two-storey building, with downstairs serving retail/takeaway customers, while upstairs offers Maruyama’s traditional full table service. You get the usual Maruyama excellence, but with the twist that the store only serves single-origins, with a daily option on espresso and the full range (usually around 30 single-origins, from up to 10 different countries, including several exclusive to the store) available through syphon and cafetiere.

If anything, the focus is even more firmly on the coffee, with delights such as an espresso and cappuccino set and, a new one on me, the same espresso served in two different cups. Perhaps as compensation for this, there’s a reduced food offering compared to the other locations, with just a small selection of cakes, plus toast.

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% Arabica, Arashiyama

The latte art in my Therma Cup at % Arabica, Arashiyama.% Arabica is an international coffee shop/roaster chain which, like Omotesando Koffee, has its origins in Japan. In the case of % Arabica, it started in Kyoto, rather than Omotesandō, before spreading around the world, although so far I’ve only visited its locations in Kyoto and Shanghai. Today’s Coffee Spot, in Arashiyama, on Kyoto’s northwestern edge, has a stunning location on the edge of the Katsura River as it gushes out from a narrow valley through the mountains.

It’s an amazing location, both in which to enjoy your coffee and for the baristas, who share the spectacular views with their customers. It is, however, a tiny spot, little more than a counter in a single room, with limited seating, most of which is outside. There’s the usual concise espresso menu, with the option of the house-blend or a single-origin, an Ethiopian Yirgacheffee Adado, but the usual filter options are missing.

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Blue Bottle Coffee, Nakameguro

My single-origin pour-over served in a beautiful glass cup at Blue Bottle Coffee in Nakameguro.It’s weird, given how few of Blue Bottle’s US outlets meet my “places where I like to have coffee” criteria, that I’ve adored all three Blue Bottle locations that I’ve visited in Tokyo. Today is the turn of Blue Bottle’s Nakameguro coffee shop, which I first visited during last summer’s trip. It occupies a tall, narrow building, all concrete and glass, that was purpose-built as a factory. The coffee shop is at the front on the ground floor, with additional seating in a basement-like space to the rear, above which is a training area/lab. The top two floors, meanwhile, are Blue Bottle’s offices.

The offering’s very similar to the other Tokyo Blue Bottles that I’ve visited, with reduced food options compared to the Aoyama coffee shop. The usual espresso-based menu has the current seasonal blend plus a single-origin, with options including macchiato, Gibraltar, cappuccino and latte, along with cold-brew and iced coffee. This is allied with a strong pour-over offering, with six Blue Bottle drippers lined up on the counter-front, each standing on in-built scales. There’s a choice of a dedicated pour-over blend, plus a daily single-origin (different from the espresso). If you’re hungry, there’s cake, waffles and a panini.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying Finnair, Part II – Helsinki to Tokyo

My espresso on board a Finnair Airbus A350-900 bound for Tokyo Narita airport.Welcome to second instalment of the latest Brian’s Travel Spot, covering my journey to Tokyo, flying with Finnair via Helsinki, a new route and new airline (for me). Part I covered my journey from Manchester to Helsinki, while this, Part II, covers my onward flight from Helsinki to Tokyo’s Narita airport.

On my previous three trips to Japan, I’ve flown British Airways, and, wherever possible, I fly direct (one less thing to go wrong). However, since I was starting in Manchester, I had to change planes somewhere, so I decided to try the Manchester-Helsinki-Tokyo route, flying with British Airways’ One World alliance partner Finnair.

Compared to the route I would normally take, flying to Heathrow with British Airways and on from there, this meant a longer first leg, heading over the North Sea to Helsinki (approximately two hours in the air versus 35 minutes), followed by a shorter second leg, roughly 9½ hours as opposed to 11½ hours. That may not seem like much, but when you’re trying to sleep on the plane, that’s actually two hours less sleep, which can be crucial!

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself: my first challenge was to make my connecting flight at Helsinki.

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Sentido Speciality Coffee

A lovely single-origin Rwandan espresso, served in a classic white cup in Sentido Speciality Coffee in Kyoto.Sentido Speciality Coffee is in the heart of Kyoto, south of the Imperial Palace and east of Nijō Castle. It’s also a few blocks from Weekenders Coffee, so it’s in pretty good company! I visited in  2017, during my first trip to Japan, tipped off by both Commodities Connoisseur and Double Skinny Macchiato. However, I didn’t have time to properly write it up, so a return visit was top of my list when I got back to Kyoto last weekend.

Down a side street off Takamiyacho, the main east-west artery, you’re unlikely to randomly wander by and, even if you do, you might well miss it, given its relatively small façade, set back slightly from the street. Inside it’s slightly larger than it seems, going back a long way, but it’s not what I’d describe as large.

The coffee, roasted by Cafetime Kyoto, is packaged/sold under the Sentido label, with all the beans available to buy in retail bags. There’s a blend and single-origin on espresso, while all the coffees, including the blend, are available through the cafetiere, with samples to try on the counter-top. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of sandwiches and cake, with plenty of vegetarian options.

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Party At Moorgate

A lovely piccolo, made with the Captain Blend and served in a glass at Party at Moorgate.Party at Moorgate is the second coffee shop from Winchester-based, coffee-roasting Aussies, The Roasting Party. Opening at the end of April, it’s a tiny space, instantly reminding me of the long-defunct original incarnation of Mother’s Milk. Located on the corner of Moorgate and London Wall, it’s a stone’s throw from Moorgate Station (and even closer to long-time residents, Wild & Wood). The only seating’s an L-shaped padded bench with two small, round tables, although to The Roasting Party’s credit, there are plenty of power outlets, which includes USB sockets.

The coffee offering’s similarly compact, with two blends and decaf on espresso (Captain for milk-based, Drake for espresso/long black), plus two daily batch brew options. This is backed up with a selection of cakes and filled croissants, but otherwise, that’s it. A word of warning: Party at Moorgate’s been cashless since the end of June, so remember to bring your card.

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Higashide Coffee

The sign which hangs outside Higashide Coffee in Kanazawa.This time last week I was in Kanazawa on the north coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island, where I unexpectedly found some excellent coffee. I say unexpectedly, since I wasn’t really looking, but I really struck it lucky with my hotel, with great coffee shops of varying styles and character all within a few minutes’ walk.

Higashide Coffee is a coffee shop/roastery in the mould of a traditional Japanese kissaten, such as Café de L’Ambre or Chatei Hatou, although the layout reminded me of a traditional American diner (Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, for example). All the coffee’s roasted on-site using what looks to me, at least, to be a very old Fuji Royal roaster, which sits in the window. In a move that I’ve not seen before, all the green beans are hand sorted before roasting, which is an impressive level of dedication!

There are around 20 origins to choose from, with roasts ranging from fairly light to very dark. They’re all available as pour-over, made to order behind the counter, while there’s also a limited espresso menu, plus a small selection of cakes. Be warned though, Higashide allows customers to smoke and, like many Japanese coffee shops, it’s cash only.

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