This was my third time in Tokyo, but the first time I actually spent it solely on coffee. This city is just exploding right now! For everyone who was in doubt, Tokyo IS a coffee city and you can easily get over caffeinated here.
If you’re on a mission to explore this melting pot via its (specialty) coffee scene, like me, you have to find ways to not get over caffeinated here. This article is about how I did it.
I often get asked how I find the coffee places I head to, when traveling to a new (coffee)city.
For Tokyo it was a mix of searching my way through blogs such as goodcoffeeme and tokyocoffee as well as asking friends and friends of friends for their recommendations as well as checking social media (Insta accounts and Facebook groups) for suggestions on places to check out.
As you may have guessed already, doing this, my list of cafes, coffee shops & roasteries to go to, grew longer and longer…
How was I ever going to survive this city without getting a coffee hangover at least once?
I spent three weeks in Tokyo and I can say, it was the best decision to start right at day 2 here in this city.
Well, 1. ways are long and as for me, I stayed with a host family in Niiza/Saitama for the whole time and had to commute at least 1 hour into Tokyo and back each day!
2. especially neighborhoods such as Shibuya, Harajuku & Omotesando, Shimokitazwa and Daikanyama/Nakameguro have so many coffee places, you can’t possibly do them in only one day.
I spent my first five (!) days in Tokyo only to check out Shibuya, Harajuku and Omotesando and went to at least 4-5 coffee shops in one day! No kidding!
These districts are some of the more hip and trendy ones, of course, there’s a lot going on with coffee here!
The thing is, while walking through the streets, you stumble over even more coffee places! Once I noticed that, I suddenly felt not happier, but indeed overwhelmed…
How was I possibly able to see every single one of these places AND drink their coffee?!?
And, to be honest, I didn’t! I didn’t go to all the places I got recommended. I didn’t drink coffee all the time at the shops I visited.
I had a coffee hangover once in my life, with racing heart, dizziness, feeling sick and all. NOT fun! I definitely didn’t want to risk something like that again…
So, what did I do? How did I decide which coffee places to check out and what beverage to try-taste there?
As a like-minded coffee lover and drinker, you might know, drinking lots of water and grabbing a bite to eat in-between all the coffee is crucial! No news here!
But still! How did I manage to go café hopping every single day I spent in Tokyo, except for like 4 days out of 21?
To add here, and, if you were wondering already, yes, I had troubles falling asleep, but only in the first couple days. I guess, after that either my body adjusted to the amount of caffeine I was treating it with or I was too exhausted because of the amount of walking in between. Or maybe both! :-D
I stopped just checking out coffee places only for the sake of visiting the place, because it got recommend to me or it was so famous in the specialty coffee world or to just marking them off my list of places I went to.
Right from the beginning – and this is my very personal approach – I didn’t only go for specialty coffee places, but also for traditional style cafes, the kissaten, as well as places that sparked my interest on Google.
Yep, my way to go here really was to check out the place and its reviews on Google, often times, while I was passing it on the streets while checking out a new neighborhood.
This way I came across the hammock café in Kichijoji, which definitely is not famous for its coffee, but for the hammocks apparently and was super relaxing after another caffeinated day in Tokyo.
And Perch by Woodberry Coffee Roasters in Daikanyama that I knew of before, I just wasn’t aware of it while making my list.
The day I went to this area, I walked down a road and saw a coffee shop just across the street. Thanks to my SIM card – please get one right at the airport, when you come to Tokyo for coffee, it makes it so much easier to find the places -, I could check out the shop on Google Maps and, of course, went there immediately!
It turned out to be a nice conversation with my barista about Ethiopian specialty coffee that went into my Espresso Tonic, specialty coffee in Germany and another recommendation for a shop I went later that day. May I add here, mainly in Japanese… -.-
Japan is also very famous for its green tea and its many varieties, Matcha, O-cha, Hoji-cha (roasted green tea).
So, as for the traditional style kissaten or other interesting cafes I didn’t always go for coffee, I often ordered tea as well: Matcha, Matcha Latte, even Hoji-cha au lait at Uni Stand in Kichijoji.
For more variations – don’t get me wrong, I love hand poured single origin filter coffee -, and to make this whole coffee journey a lot more interesting, I often ordered a Cappuccino or Latte (no Flat White here, really, except for Supreme – coffee roaster out of NZ) or the batch brew or the house blend, which tended to be medium to dark roasted often times.
Besides the not only going for specialty coffee approach, I followed my rule of always trying something new – what you should do, too! Trust me! Don’t go for the third Ethiopian Kochere or the fifth Colombian, whatever.
Unfortunately many of the specialty coffee places offer these well-known (and for sure, delicious) origins: Ethiopia, Kenya, Colombia, and Brazil…
I’m not quite sure, if that’s the customer’s choice or if the Japanese buyers or roasters just didn’t get their hands on some Peruvian coffees or other specialty coffee from Central or South America or even some other African countries besides the usual, yet?
The only exception that I came across was Arise Coffee Roasters and his owner/roaster Taiju offering about 10 single origin coffees from around the world, one of them a coffee from the cooperative that I visited in summer 2017: Cecovasa, located in Juliaca/Peru.
Try something new every day!
I had seasonal Lattes with syrups, whipped cream and nuts (that turned out to be a dessert before even having lunch on that very day in my case) at newly opened W/O Stand in a side street of hip neighborhood Shimokitazawa.
I also had some very delicious coffee creations and signature drinks, such as a Latte Shakerato at Bar Il Primario, a Bicerin called espresso based drink at Coffeehouse Nishiya, a sweetened milk and coffee drink at Chatei Hatou.
I’ve tried several coffee cocktails at unlimited coffee bar, Coffeebar Gallage and even some coffee ice cream I had at 4/4 Coffee in Shinjuku – OMG so delicious, especially the one with their Ethiopian coffee, yoghurt and cranberries.
Any coffee pairing fans out there?
Watch out for some nice coffee and cake or dessert or other sweet treat or even a dried fruit pairing like I tried at Maruyama Coffee.
If you’re visiting Tokyo for coffee make sure to also try Nel Drip – I did at COBI coffee in Harajuki – and a cream or melon soda at a traditional kissaten. It’s just part of the deal, when you’re in Tokyo!
Some days, when my caffeine level was in the alarm zone already, I even went for a Chai Latte, like I did at Paddlers. Coffee places in Tokyo also do a great job here apparently.
Here are my recommendations for Tokyo, if you not want to get over caffeinated or, if you simply want to make your stay more fun and exciting:
- Try to taste variations as often as possible. No, not another Ethiopian or Colombian or the third filter or fifth espresso, unless you want to train your palate, of course. Then I’d suggest heading to one of the many cuppings that some of the specialty coffee places offer each week.
- Try something new & different: Go for Filter coffee, Espresso (not that of a fan personally), signature drinks, coffee cocktails, seasonal drinks, tea variations, like Matcha Latte, Green tea, Roasted Green tea, etc. and try-taste this variety.
- Often coffee places offer coffee & cake sets, which turns out to be cheaper than going only for coffee or cake. I don’t have to tell you that those Japanese sweet treats, be it the traditional ones or the sponge/chiffon cakes are another reason to drink (and eat) yourself through the coffee places in Tokyo. This will also keep you from getting that coffee hangover! ;-)
- Take breaks! It’s not only exhausting to make your way through the coffee menus of this crazy city, but also for your legs and back. I didn’t count the kilometers – or miles depending on where you are -, but I’m sure, it had been many over the past couple weeks.
- That means also, do some sightseeing, especially, if it’s your first time in Tokyo. Do a day trip to either Hakone (for the hot springs, Mount Fuji view), to Yokohama (Minato Mirai), to Nikko (temples and shrines en masse) or Kamakura (same!). There’s even a coffee shop close to Hokoku-ji: Alpha Betti Cafe!
- Connect with the local coffee community, attend cuppings and other events. Many of the baristas do speak English, just ask. Check out goodcoffee.me for events also!
- Go to one of the Meetups of Coffee and Tea Surfing Tokyo.
I went to about 55 cafes & kissaten, coffee shops and roasteries in Tokyo, these are my personal Top 10 and why:
Before telling you about my favorites, I’d like to add that the baristas, shop owners, bartenders I got to meet and talk to always have been super friendly and considerate. So I guess, it’s all about the(coffee) people out there. ;-)
1. Counterpart Coffee Gallery: Everything is wonderful here, the coffee (from Glitch Coffee), the place, the atmosphere and barista Tomonori who is so passionate about filter coffee brewing. He basically recommended every new customer their new addition to the drip menu: An Ethiopian Chelchele Natural that smelled and tasted like strawberries.
2. Chatei Hatou: It’s a traditional kissaten with extraordinary precision to detail in everything they do and the cakes that are to die for. I just loved watching the baristas/staff prepare the coffee. They even sort their roasted coffee beans by hand.
3. KOFFEE MAMEYA: Every single customer is treated with the same care, attention and time. Always! You literally feel special here and their coffee bean selection from roasters across the globe and from dark to light roasts is very well sorted, too.
4. Woodberry Coffee Roasters or Perch by Woodberry: Best single origin espresso I had! This time (at Perch) I had their Ethiopian Alaka Sund Dried (Natural) as an Espresso Tonic.
5. Coffee House Nishiya: Signature drinks! Period. The mirror with their logo is also very classy.
6. Cafe & Coffeebar Gallage: Coffee Cocktails, I tried an upgraded version of their Espresso Gin Tonic called Kingsman 2, and chatting with my barista/bartender about the specialty coffee scene in Tokyo while sitting at the bar. Very classy!
7. Deus Ex Machina: The owner Yoshiteru who’s always up for some fun (he ordered a Luigi costume for Halloween and wore the hat while preparing coffees for his customers) and the shop itself selling motorcycles and cool clothings as well as accessories for the hipper Tokyo folks.
8. Nem Coffee & Espresso: The coffee shop itself that is very warm and welcoming. Almost European style, maybe because of the many expats you can meet there.
9. Life Size Cribe: This coffee shop/roastery is a bit far off, but so so worth the visit! Why? Because of K-Zu, the owner/barista/roaster. He’s so passionate and into specialty coffee. He even takes the time to talk while roasting coffee and brewing/preparing coffee for his customers.
10. 1 Room Coffee: Another beautiful cafe that is rather in a remote neighborhood. But, the space is so calm and relaxing. Keeps you grounded in bustling Tokyo city life.