Last summer I spent a few days in Kanazawa in Ishikawa on Japan’s northern coast, where I found a small, thriving speciality coffee scene, not least the excellent Kanazawaya Coffee Shop Head Office. Both a coffee shop and roastery, it’s just outside the northern entrance to Kanazawa Castle, making it the ideal spot for a pre- or post-sightseeing coffee.
It’s part of the Caravanserai Coffeeshop, which has been going since 1980 in the nearby Omicho market, with Kanazawaya Coffee Shop Head Office opening in 2011. As well as being a lovely coffee shop, spread over two floors with a small outside terrace and traditional Japanese sitting area, it’s also a roastery, with a 6 kg Giesen tucked in downstairs beside the counter.
In keeping with many Japanese coffee shops, full table service is offered, with a range of coffee on offer, backed up by a selection of cakes and snacks. As well as a concise espresso-based menu with the house-blend, there are five blends available on pour-over as well as five single-origins, with roast profiles ranging from light to dark. All the beans are available to buy in retail bags, along with a range of cups, coffee kit and hand-carved spoons.
I did really well when I visited Kanazawa as part of the first of this year’s two Japanese trips. I’d chosen my hotel largely for its proximity to the castle (which I could see from my window), little realising that it was surrounded by a clutch of excellent coffee shops, one of which, Curio Espresso and Vintage Design, was visible from the other side of the hotel.
I was originally put on to Curio by Happy Cow, a site for finding vegetarian and vegan restaurants, which resulted in my heading to Curio for breakfast on my second day in Kanazawa. I then discovered that it had excellent coffee, serving an espresso-based menu using a bespoke house-blend from Kanazawa roaster Hiroyuki Arinobu of Ally Caffe. There’s also beer and wine for those so inclined.
Run by married couple Sol (Seattle) and Yuko (Kanazawa), Curio Espresso and Vintage Design is a friendly, welcoming place, beloved by locals and visitors alike. The food and coffee have a definite Seattle influence, while the vintage design part of the name (along with the “Curio” of the title) come from the décor, full of vintage items originally bought by Sol and Yuko to furnish their home!
I was in luck during my time in Kanazawa, where I stayed for three days, part of the week I spent travelling around Japan at the end of August this year. I’d gone on the recommendation of my friend Christopher, but this was more with a view to being a tourist. The fact that I found so much great coffee, most of it within a few minutes of my hotel, was a bonus.
Blue Monday was the exception, since it’s not near my hotel. Instead, it’s close to Kanazawa station, making it a perfect introduction to the city (and a good last call before catching your train). Located in the Porte basement shopping complex under the Hotel Nikko, it offers espresso-based drinks, using a bespoke house-blend, plus herbal tea, hot dogs, toast, soft-serve ice cream and mini-doughnuts. If you want to stay, there’s no seating, but there are proper cups.
This time last week I was in Kanazawa on the north coast of Honshu, part of my short trip around 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.