Tokyo is an interesting place. Nearly every train station has something to offer, though it might not be immediately apparent. Meguro station off of JR’s Yamanote line is one of those stations. Sure, it’s bustling with people and crowded high with restaurants, bars, and shops. Yet, it has that feeling of calmness that many inner-city Tokyo towns have. The atmosphere of a place that people go to work, not play. It’s cleaner, more spacious, and quieter than it’s neighboring amusement towns of Shibuya and Harajuku (and maybe Ebisu). I could be wrong about this, so please forgive me if you’re a die hard Meguro fan. I’m not saying there is anything bad about Meguro. No, not at all. What I am saying is that at first glance it is a coffee desert.
There is a very good reason to go to Meguro, and that is why I went there. That reason is about a 12 minute walk from the station in a far flung back street north-west of Meguro’s bustling transportation hub. It’s called Switch Coffee. As I walked downhill away from city-center I notice the flavor of the town changing. The clean and modern high-rises faded away and little shops crammed in tight together became the theme. Places with character, many that developed there charm simply by staying put underneath the covered sidewalk so many years. There’s something very genuine about these shita-machi (literally under-city) areas. Less polished, less pretty, just as fascinating. While pondering this I turned a corner towards a residential street.
I must have passed by the little nook of a side-street that was home to Switch four times before I realized it lived there. I’m not sure how one of Tokyo’s hottest cafes can survive so far away from crowds of businessmen and tourists, never mind thrive, but it does. Nestled between the buildings on this quiet street sat the little cafe/roastery. A bench for two outside, a small counter space for quick espresso drinkers to stand, maximum customer capacity: six. The bulk of the interior space was taken up by work stations and their Probat Roaster. It’s a design that favors the staff more than the customers. Still, the barista was friendly and consciences. He prepared my shot of espresso, my cappuccino, and my hand-drip coffee with careful, furrowed brow precision. All were on point.
Switch is certainly in the spotlight right now. They are sure to always get a mention in coffee trade magazines and their beans are popping up in more and more specialty coffee shops. There is a certain no-nosense approach that owner Masahiro Onishi takes to things. Neither he nor his staff participate in latte art competitions. Their hand-drip coffee is poured via a normal kettle which is in stark contrast to the gooseneck kettle most coffee professionals use. It was explained to me that this was to show that anyone can make delicious coffee at home, even without special tools. The staff seems to treat all customers with the same pleasant and calm mannerism that is somehow both welcoming and soothing.
Switch is worth going out of your way for. Their beans are priced on the high end, but their beverages are priced low. Each drink is made with care, and each batch of beans is roasted to bring out the flavors of the region. I prefer their brewed coffee most of all. There is a natural sweetness and a long lingering mouth feel to many of their beans. You won’t have to fight for a seat because there aren’t any. You will get a good cup of coffee.
And hey, if Switch is too far out of your way About Life Coffee Brewers usually has their espresso handy and a few choice beans for brewed coffee as well.
Switch Coffee is located at: 1-17-23 Meguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Open 10:00am to 7:00pm