So far in covering Tokyo’s Coffee Spots, I’ve written about Maruyama Coffee, a modern take on a traditional Japanese, service-oriented coffee shop and Kaido Books & Coffee, which any aficionado of western, third-wave coffee shops would instantly recognise. For today’s Coffee Spot, however, I wanted to write about Café de L’Ambre, a traditional Japanese kissaten.
This is a very different beast, more akin to a bar than a coffee shop. In the case of L’Ambre, all the coffee is roasted on-site on a pair of small roasters at the front of the store, while coffee is made and consumed at the back, in a long, low, smoky room with a counter/bar on the left and a handful of tables on the right.
If you can, sit at the counter, the further along the better, where you can watch your coffee being prepared for you using a linen filter. This is really old-school: no scales, timers or temperature-controlled kettles. It’s coffee as a performance and although the end result might not please everybody, it’s an experience I would recommend trying. Be warned, though, L’Ambre allows smoking and it’s pot-luck whether you end up sat next to someone lighting up a cigarette.
Tucked away in the back of a car park (something it shares with the Acme Coffee Roasting Company, of Seaside, California), Weekenders Coffee is Kyoto’s hidden gem. It’s definitely in the “you don’t need to find my coffee shop do you?” school, typified by the original (and now closed) Flat Caps Coffee in Newcastle.
However, it would be a shame if you let any difficulty finding Weekenders put you off, since it really is a gem. Roasting all its own coffee, which it serves from a ground-floor counter in a beautiful, wooden building, there’s a choice of house-blend or single-origin on espresso, plus multiple single-origins on pour-over, all supplemented with a small collection of excellent cake. You can also buy the beans.
There’s seating, in the shape of a two-person bench at the front. Unusually for this sort of operation, proper cups are available for those who aren’t going anywhere.
% Aribica is a Kyoto-based roaster/coffee shop chain which was one of Caffeine Magazine’s top recommendations. However, I couldn’t make it to either of its main stores. Instead, I’m indebted to Commodities Connoisseur for the heads-up about the branch inside the Fujii Daimaru Department Store, which, for my purposes, had the advantage of being open until eight o’clock in the evening.
Serving the house-blend and a single-origin on espresso from a very limited menu, it’s a surprisingly pleasant environment in which to sit down and rest your weary legs between sight-seeing stops. You can also buy beans and a small range of merchandising, including branded cups and containers, while if you’re hungry, there’s no problem picking something up from the food hall in the basement and munching it at % Arabica with your coffee. A word to the wise: it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own!
Kaido Books & Coffee was just down the street from my third (and final) hotel in Tokyo during my first trip to Japan in 2017. I’d done extremely well when it came to good coffee near hotels/work on that trip and Kaido (plus Blue Bottle Coffee at Shinagawa Station) was the icing on the cake. It was also a surprise, a random discovery as I explored the rather lovely residential street I was unexpected staying on. I made a few visits during my stay in 2017, popping back again on my return to Tokyo in July 2018.
Kaido Books & Coffee does what it says on the tin: a book shop combined with a coffee shop. In fairness, though, it’s more like a coffee shop with plenty of books. In fact, I didn’t see anyone buy a book the whole time I was there! It seems that the books are more for the customers to browse while lingering over coffee.
Kaido serves coffee from And Coffee Roasters and Ishikawa Coffee, with a choice of three single-origins on pour-over through the V60, one of which was also available on espresso. Kaido does a limited range of food, which includes a small cake selection.
My first Tokyo coffee experience was down, in part, to the excellent Commodities Connoisseur and also to serendipity. Having done very little planning for this trip, I had picked my hotel for the first part of my stay almost at random. On arrival, I was delighted to discover that it was across the road from one of Commodities Connoisseur’s recommendations, Maruyama Coffee.
Maruyama Coffee is a roaster based in Karuizawa in the mountains northwest of Tokyo and founded in 1991 by Kentaro Maruyama. Nishi Azabu is the sixth store, one of three in Tokyo. It’s a lovely space, with plenty of seating and full table service. Although not a traditional Japanese coffeehouse (as I understand them to be), it was a very Japanese experience, far removed from the typical (western) third-wave café.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is the vast array of coffee on offer, which can be had principally through the humble cafetiere, although there are also options for Steampunk, Cores pour-over cones and espresso. If you are hungry, there is a small breakfast menu (08:00 – 10:00) and a decent selection of cake. There’s also a huge retail section, including beans, coffee-making equipment and a range of other products.