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.
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.
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.
If 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.
% 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Foret Coffee was the third of the three coffee shops my friend and local guide, Christopher, took me to when I visited Nagano last year, along with Hirano Coffee and Maruyama. When I passed through Nagano earlier this week, with a little bit of time to kill, I decided to pay Foret another visit, having enjoyed it so much last time (I would have revisited Hirano as well, but it closes on Tuesdays, the day I was there).
Foret is very much in the third-wave mould, a coffee shop/roaster (the coffee is roasted off-site) with a simple shop, occupying a sparsely-decorated concrete shell, with the counter on the right and the seating on the left. Unusually for Japan, it also caters to the takeaway market, with a separate takeaway window at the front of the counter, so you can get your coffee to go without setting foot inside.
Foret has a simple espresso-based menu using a seasonal espresso-blend, while if you want filter, there’s a wide selection of single-origins to choose from, conveniently segregated into light/medium roasts and dark roasts. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of scones and cookies, all baked on the open range behind the counter.