Tokyo has, I quickly discovered, a very international coffee scene, something it has in common with London, with brands from all around the world. This includes California in the USA (Verve, Blue Bottle), Europe (Fuglen, Stockholm Roast) and Australia (Single-O). New Zealand is represented by the likes of Allpress, and, since October 2017, Coffee Supreme, which opened in Shibuya, a couple of streets away from the original Fuglen.
I first visited in July last year, tipped off by Little Nap Coffee Stand, calling back last weekend during my most recent trip. Located in the tangle of streets north of Shibuya station, Coffee Supreme is at the southwestern edge of Yoyogi Park, occupying the ground floor of a long, extremely thin building that’s also home to a pair of Kiwi restaurants.
The coffee is from Coffee Supreme’s Melbourne roastery, with house-blend, guest and decaf on espresso, the menu including Kiwi staples such as flat white and long black. There are three monthly single-origins, one of which is on batch brew, the option changing daily, with all the beans (blends and single-origins) available in retail bags. There’s also craft beer, and, if you’re hungry, a small range of cakes, toast and pies.
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.
Verve Coffee Roasters started life in Santa Cruz, California, before spreading north to San Francisco, south to Los Angeles and then across the Pacific to Japan, with two branches in Tokyo and another in Kamakura. I first came across Verve as a roaster in Café Plume (now Paquebot Mont-Royal) in Montréal, before visiting Verve’s flagship branch on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. The original Tokyo branch is in Shinjuku, a loud, busy place which I briefly visited in July. The second branch, subject of today’s Coffee Spot, opened in April this year. A much more relaxed basement affair under the Rag & Bone Store in Omotesando, I visited twice, first in July, and again on my return in October.
Although a basement, it’s a fairly bright spot. There’s space for a counter down one side, with seating opposite, plus a small seating area at the back. There’s the usual Verve offering, with a blend and daily single-origin on espresso, plus multiple single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. All the coffee, which is roasted in Santa Cruz and air-freighted over, is available to buy in retail bags. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of waffles, all made to order.
This is the original Switch Coffee Tokyo, a small coffee shop in Meguro, which doubles as the roastery. That said, a better description is a roastery doubling as a coffee shop, the roaster occupying the bulk of the space at the back of the store, with a small counter at the front, where the coffee is served. There’s a second, equally small branch of Switch in Shibuya, by the Yoyogi-Hachiman station.
The principle draw is the coffee, which is just as well, since other than a small selection of gin and wine, that’s all there is. No tea, no food, not even a cake. When it comes to coffee, there’s a house-blend on espresso, plus a single-origin filter, one of the four seasonal single-origins Switch has in stock. In an interesting twist on the batch-brew model, this is made in a large cafetiere then kept warm in a flask.
Fuglen is one of several western/Japanese hybrids which I found in Tokyo. In this case the western element comes from Oslo, where Fuglen started and is still going strong. The Tokyo offshoot opened in 2012 in the residential streets on Shibuya’s northern edge, somewhere I have yet to visit, with the Tokyo roastery, subject of today’s Coffee Spot, opening in 2014. Ironically, Fuglen only started roasting in Oslo in March this year.
The Tokyo roastery doubles as a coffee shop, opening its doors to the public from Thursday to Sunday every week. It’s a lovely spot, tucked away up a driveway on a quiet street, somewhere you would never stumble upon by accident unless you were very lucky. Inside, there’s a single, open space, with the roaster at the back, and a simple coffee bar to your left, with minimal seating.
Of course, the real draw is the coffee, all single-origins, all roasted on-site. It’s all seasonal, changing every two to three months. Naturally, it’s all available to buy in retail bags. There’s one single-origin on espresso and a choice of four on pour-over, all through the Kalita Wave. And that’s it. No tea, no food, not even a cake.
Sarutahiko Coffee in Ebisu is another places which I discovered on my first visit to Tokyo in April 2017, but never had time to write up. I first came across Sarutahiko when I found its Omotesandō branch, around the corner from my office, which shares a multi-level space with a bookshop and travel agent. This branch, opposite Ebisu train station on the Yamanote Line (amongst others) is very different, being a stand-alone shop, but it shares the two winning factors from the Omotesandō branch: excellent coffee and, in a culture where service is king, uber-friendly and welcoming staff. In fact, even if I didn’t like the coffee so much, I’d be tempted back just to see the staff.
When it comes to coffee, Sarutahiko has one of the widest ranges of any coffee shop I know. There are six blends and six single-origins, with roasts from dark all the way to light, so there’s something for everyone. All the coffee is available as pour-over, while there’s the house-blend and a single-origin available on espresso. You can also buy retail bags of the beans, although there’s a much wider selection available in Sarutahiko’s retail shop just a few doors away.
On my first visit to Tokyo back in 2017, the final part of my stay was spent in a lovely, quiet residential area just south of Shinagawa Station, where I made the chance discovery of Kaido Books & Coffee, which was a couple of minutes’ walk down the street from my hotel of my trip. Much as Nem Coffee & Espresso became my “local” for the first part of my stay (and filled the same role during the second half of my return to Tokyo in 2018), so Kaido became my “local” for the final week of my stay.
Kaido Books & Coffee does what it says on the tin: a book shop combined with a coffee shop, spread over two delightful floors, with more of a coffee shop feel downstairs and a bookshop/library vibe upstairs. I liked Kaido so much that I immediately wrote it up, posting my original piece while I was still in Tokyo.
However, due to various technical reasons, I never managed to create a gallery to go with the original post, so on my return to Tokyo last week, I popped down to Shinagawa to pay Kaido a visit and to finally complete the gallery.
In a small corner in the northwest Shibuya in Tokyo, west of Yoyokgi Park, there’s an interesting cluster of coffee shops, including the new branch of Switch Coffee Tokyo opposite Yoyogi-Hachiman station, another new arrival, Coffee Supreme Tokyo, and old hand, Fuglen. However, one can argue the trendsetter that started it all is just a little north of the station, where you’ll find a tall, thin building backing onto the railways tracks, home, since 2011, to Little Nap Coffee Stand.
Little Nap now boasts a roastery a few minutes’ on the other side of the station, but this is the original, a narrow, wedge-shaped space that serves four seasonal single-origins on pour-over (hot or cold), an impressive output for an infeasibly small space. When it comes to espresso, there’s the house-blend, available as espresso, macchiato or Gibraltar (the first time I’ve seen that in Japan outside of Blue Bottle Coffee), all served hot and only available if you’re sitting in. If you want a longer drink, there’s a choice of Americano, latte (hot or iced) or cappuccino. There’s also cakes, sandwiches, ice cream and a selection of retail bags to take home with you. Little Nap’s also crammed in an impressive sound system!
So far it’s been Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo on the Coffee Spot, but yesterday I escaped the heat of the city (as an aside, it’s currently Japan’s hottest ever heatwave, with Tokyo reaching a sweltering 38⁰C) for the relatively cool (~30⁰C) of the mountains of eastern Nagano Prefecture, just under a 1½ hour ride on the bullet train northwest of the capital. Here I met up with Christopher, an American who has lived in the area for around 30 years.
The plan was to go hiking in the mountains, but along the way, Christopher took me to the delightful & Espresso in Tomi, an area best known as the home of Maruyama Coffee, which has its roastery in nearby Komoro. Midway between Ueda and Karuizawa, & Espresso is easy enough to get to by local train, being a few minutes’ from Tanaka station.
& Espresso is the brainchild of owner and head barista, Harasawa Masanao. Opening earlier this year, it’s in a converted rice storehouse at the rear of a small parking lot, so it’s easy enough to miss. The coffee is from Kagoshima’s Voila, with a choice of two single-origins available on espresso, either black, or in a variety of milk-based options.
During my two visits to Tokyo, I’ve enjoyed Switch Coffee Tokyo’s coffee in both About Life Coffee Brewers, where you’ll find a pair of single-origins available as either espresso or pour-over, and Nem Coffee & Espresso, whose bespoke house-blend is roasted by Switch. However, since I’ve not yet made it down to Switch’s coffee shop/roastery in Meguro, I was delighted when the baristas at Little Nap Coffee Stand told me that Switch had opened a second branch opposite Yoyogi-Hachiman station, a mere five minutes’ walk away.
There’s not a lot to the new branch of Switch, with just the stool outside providing the only seat. Inside, it is standing-room only, with a choice of drinks from a concise espresso menu (espresso, latte or cappuccino) using Switch’s seasonal espresso blend, or batch-brew with a regularly-changing single-origin. You can also buy retail bags of beans to take home with you.