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.

Continue reading

Ogawa Coffee, Kyoto Station

A lovely single-origin Ethiopian pour-over from Ogawa Coffee at Kyoto Station.Yesterday I took the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station, on my way towards Tokyo, stopping en-route in Hamaya to visit Dark Arts and in Zushi (Breather Coffee). It therefore seems fitting that today’s Coffee Spot is the Kyoto Station branch of Ogawa Coffee. I had my first-ever Kyoto speciality coffee there on arriving from Tokyo in April 2017, and on my return, I had my final coffee (along with my breakfast) before leaving Kyoto yesterday morning. Not that 2017 was my first experience of Ogawa Coffee. Rather that came a year earlier in 2016, at Ogawa Coffee in Boston. Naturally, when visiting Kyoto, the home of Ogawa, I had to try at least one branch of Ogawa, and where better to start (and end), than at the station?

Despite being what could be described as a station takeaway café, Ogawa doesn’t compromise when it comes to coffee. There’s a concise espresso menu, offering espresso, cappuccino or latte, the latter being available hot or iced. There’s also filter, with a choice of the house-blend on batch-brew, and two single-origins as pour-over or Aeropress. You can either sit-in or have your coffee to go, which you can order from the separate retail counter.

Continue reading

Maruyama Coffee, Nagano Station

A syphon at Maruyama Coffee in Nagano Station, warming on the infrared heater after brewing.My first ever speciality coffee experience in Japan was at Maruyama Coffee in Nishi Azabu, conveniently located across the road from my hotel. Ever since then, I’ve had a soft spot for Maruyama Coffee, a high-end chain which has its origins in Nagano Prefecture. It was therefore fitting that when my friend and local guide, Christopher, took me on a coffee tour of Nagano, our first stop was Maruyama Coffee, which has a lovely coffee shop in the Midori shopping mall at Nagano Station. I also made a point of calling in on my return to Nagano on this trip.

Maruyama is a blend of traditional Japanese hospitality (table service, attentive staff, baskets to put your things in so that they don’t have to rest on the floor) and speciality coffee. In the former aspect, it’s very unlike western coffee shops; in its latter aspect, third-wave aficionados will instantly feel at home. As an added bonus, the Nagano Station location specialises in syphon coffee, which is prepared on the counter-top for all to see. Other than that, you get the usual Maruyama offering, with a bewildering choice of origins and blends through cafetiere and espresso, plus a small food menu.

Continue reading

% Arabica, Xintiandi Plaza

The % Arabica logo from the floor of its latest Shanghai branch in the Sunken Plaza of the Xintiandi Plaza shopping centre.My first experience of % Arabica in Shanghai wasn’t, in fact, the flagship Shanghai Roastery, but instead came two days earlier at the Xintiandi Plaza shopping mall, rather mirroring my first ever experience of % Arabica at Kyoto’s Fujii Daimaru Department Store. This is the most recent of (for now) four % Arabicas stores in Shanghai, located in the mall’s rather pleasant semi-open basement courtyard. As with all the % Arabica stores that I’ve visited, it’s disposable cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own. This is despite there being a reasonable amount of seating, with two window-bars and a comfortable bench.

Turning to the coffee, the offering’s identical across all % Arabica’s Shanghai branches: house-blend (Brazil and two different Ethiopians) and single-origin, both available as espresso or pour-over (through the Chemex), with a limited selection of pleasingly-small sizes for milk-based drinks (4, 6 and 8oz). And, other than some merchandising and a retail selection of beans, that’s it, although there is a food court in the basement, where you’re welcome to take your coffee.

Continue reading

Seesaw IFC

My espresso, made with the Giraffe house-blend, and served in a classic black cup at Seesaw in the IFC Mall in Shanghai.Seesaw’s one of Shanghai’s speciality coffee pioneers. The coffee shop/roaster started in 2012, and now has 12 branches in Shanghai, three in Shenzhen, two in Suzhou and one in Beijing. My first introduction to Seesaw was at the flagship Seesaw 433, but sadly this has recently closed, the landlord requiring the building back. Therefore, when wandering Pudong’s IFC Mall in search of the Metro Station, I immediately changed my plans on seeing Seesaw on a list of shops.

Tucked away at the far end of the mall, next to the cinema, Seesaw occupies an open, triangular space. The back wall forms one side, while the two-part counter, along with a square pillar in the corner, forms the remaining two sides. There’s limited seating, with tables along the back wall and stools along the counter, but despite its modest size, you get the full Seesaw treatment, including proper cups for sit-in customers (something Shanghai’s other chains could learn from) and a full range of coffee, with the Giraffe blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a single-origin, another seven available on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a retail selection, small breakfast, lunch and afternoon menus, plus a generous cake selection.

Continue reading

Mellower Coffee, Century Link Tower 1

My Enchanting Yunnan pour-over in my Therma Cup at Mellower Coffee in Century Link Tower 1, Shanghai.I set off one murky Sunday evening in Shanghai with the aim of catching a basketball match, but armed with the knowledge that along the way there was a branch of my favourite Shanghai roaster, Little Bean. Located in the lobby of the Century Link Tower 2, it was right above my destination, the Century Link metro station. Sadly, Little Bean appears to be closed at weekends, but while I was looking for Tower 2, I wandered past Tower 1, where, glancing through the window, I saw Mellower Coffee in the lobby.

Mellower Coffee is a local coffee shop/roaster chain, with multiple branches around Shanghai. In this case, there’s a simple counter tucked away in a corner of the lobby, with nine two-person tables providing seating in the lobby itself. The choice of coffee is impressive for somewhere so small, with two blends on espresso and nine single-origins on pour-over through the Chemex, plus various signature drinks and a small selection of pastries. Unsurprisingly, it’s disposable cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.

Continue reading

Little Bean Coffee Museum

A V60 of a Costa Rican Geisha being prepared at Little Bean Coffee Museum in Shanghai.I first became aware of Little Bean on my first trip to Shanghai in October 2016, when I tried its coffee at AUNN Café & Co. On my return in  December 2017, Little Bean’s flagship, Little Bean Roastery, was one of that trip’s highlights. These days, there are five Little Beans, but back then, there were just two, the second being the Little Bean Coffee Museum, located in the basement of the K11 Mall, right in the heart of downtown Shanghai.

I managed to visit in 2017, but didn’t get a chance to write it up, so on my return in 2019, I made a point of visiting, even though modern shopping malls are very low on my list of places I want to spend any time in. However, the lure of Little Bean, tucked away in the basement, was too much to resist (and the good news is that you can get there straight from the Metro, so you can bypass K11 altogether).

What you get is the usual Little Bean offering of a Brazilian single-origin on espresso, plus another Brazilian single-origin on pour-over through the V60, where it’s joined by a selection of single-origins sourced from Nordic Approach.

Continue reading

18 Grams, Times Square

The words "18 GRAMS" in white in a black circle. Some stylised coffee beans are drawn above the 18.My first experience of speciality coffee in Hong Kong was at the Causeway Bay branch of roaster/coffee shop chain, 18 Grams. Two days later, I found myself in Times Square (opposite Café Corridor) and decided to pop into the 18 Grams there. Although “pop in” might be over-stating things since it took me almost an hour to find it!

18 Grams’ Times Square branch is inside the City Super super market, which itself is in the basement of Times Square. Occupying a simple, triangular stand, with seating along two sides of the counter, 18 Grams only serves coffee, plus the usual retail selection of beans and coffee-related kit. There’s a more limited offering than at Causeway Bay, but that’s to be expected, with just espresso (a house-blend), several single-origins on V60 and cold-brew. What surprised me was the relaxed atmosphere, making it the ideal place to linger over your coffee.

Continue reading

Cafe X, San Francisco

The robot arm at the heart of the Cafe X operation.One of the Coffee Spot’s tag lines is “places I like to have coffee”, so today’s Saturday (on-a-Wednesday) Supplement is something of a departure for me since I’m not sure I’d describe Cafe X as somewhere I’d like to have coffee. Somewhere I’d go to get coffee, perhaps, but it’s definitely not somewhere to have coffee. However, there I was on Monday, in San Francisco, minding my own business, when Cafe X announced its grand opening. A block from my hotel. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so along I went.

So, what is Cafe X? Well, put simply, it’s an automated coffee shop, with a pair of high-end bean-to-cup machines and a robot arm that takes the place of the barista. There’s a choice of beans from local roasters, such as Verve (Santa Cruz) and Oakland’s AKA (previously known as Supersonic), plus a fairly standard selection of espresso-based drinks, but only one size (8oz). You order using one of the tablets attached to the Cafe X kiosk, or preferably ahead of time on your phone using the Cafe X app. Typically your coffee will be waiting for you in under a minute. Well, that’s the theory…

Continue reading