Kiyosumi Shirakawa has been featured quite often these days in Japanese coffee magazines and blogs due to its high concentration of coffee shops. It’s surprising to find a cluster of modern cafes in an unassuming area like this. Equally surprising is that Blue Bottle of the United States as well as Allpress Espresso of New Zealand picked this town as their Japanese base. This generally quiet area is now a hub for coffee pilgrims and makes a nice location for a coffee walk.
So, here’s the standard disclaimer:
Let’s say you’re visiting Tokyo, you’re hitting up one (or more) of these areas, and you’re curious where you can grab a decent cup of joe. Or, let’s say that you’re visiting Tokyo and your main goal is to drink lots of good coffee. Either way, you’ll find some crucial information in this coffee guide.
I’m writing this in late 2015, so I assume that most blog reading world travelers either have a smart phone or know how to use a computer. Therefore, I’m not giving step by step directions to each shop. Rather, I’m attaching a map and a link to google maps. I also firmly believe that asking people for directions is a good way to interact with the locals and to get suggestions for things you may have otherwise passed up. Grab your vitamin C tablets (helps to counteract over-caffeination) let’s get started.
If you exit on the southwest side of Kiyosumi Shirakawa Station you’ll find Kiyosumi Garden, a beautiful park, nearby. If you are in the mood for some quiet and greenery then take a stroll on through. Arise Coffee Entangle is waiting for you at the southern edge of the park. Inside there is plenty of seating and a funky decor. Aside from a replica of a rhinoceros head on the wall and a giant wooden plane propeller by the bar seating there is great coffee to be found. Arise only offers pour overs for hot coffee, but there are usually over five choices of single-origin beans to choose from. Their offerings include many different flavor profiles, so there is something for everyone there. Everything from beans with tea-like flavor profiles to the exceptionally fruity. It’s also one of the few shops where you can sometimes get coffee from Thailand. I can’t say enough nice things about this shop or their staff.
About 500 meters to the east lies Blue Bottle Japan’s flagship store and roaster. You won’t often see a space this large, wide-open, or well-staffed in Tokyo. It’s a beautifully designed shop worth checking out. At this time (late 2015) Blue Bottle is still a huge tourist attraction, so the waits can be exceptionally long on weekends. The staff working in tandem, like a well-oiled machine, is a sight worth seeing even if you don’t feel like waiting in line. Perhaps grab your coffee to go and then marvel from the outside of the building at how many people are flocking there to taste some of this powerhouse’s USA style coffee.
Only one minute from Blue Bottle, on the same street, is home to Arise Coffee Roasters. Even though Arise’s cafe space has already been featured in this walk you should still check out their cramped, chaotic, and beautiful roaster. In stark contrast to the organized, spacious, and somewhat sterile Blue Bottle, Arise is cluttered, tiny, and full of quirky charm. Skateboards are mounted on the wall and burlap coffee bean bags are in piles all over. They also serve coffee and light pastries here if you are in the mood for another cup. This is the spot I would recommend buying some beans for home brewing use. The owner, Mr. Hayashi, is all smiles and his style seals him as what can only be described as the antithesis to the Japanese businessman stereotype. He’ll have a good coffee recommendation to meet anyone’s tastes.
Feeling the buzz yet? There’s still one more shop to go! About 5 minutes east of Arise Coffee Roasters is Allpress Espresso’s Japan location. The exterior is reminiscent of a log cabin and the interior is cozy. There is a medium sized cafe space that also offers light sandwiches. Most of the interior is taken up by their roasting operation, which stands behind glass walls. It seems to me that Allpress formulates their espresso to stand up to milk, so I recommend getting a latte here. The cups they serve drinks in aren’t exactly conducive to latte art, but most of the baristas still do amazing pours. I mean, how do you create a latte swan in a cup with such a narrow opening? Amazing!
There you have it! I hope you made it through without getting the espresso shakes.
Kiyosumi Shirakawa doesn’t seem to be alluring at first glance, but the town has a lot to offer beyond coffee. I’m a sucker for places that feel genuine and this town seems to have heart. So, if you have time check out some of the local restaurants and shops and support the little guys. Perhaps poke your head in to Artichoke, the hippest chocolate shop I’ve ever seen, or take a stroll down the Fukagawa-wakakashi shopping street.
ARiSE Coffee Entangle is located at: 3-1-3 Koto, Kiyosumi, Tokyo
Blue Bottle Kiyosumishirakawa is located at: 1-4-8, Koto, Hirano, Tokyo
ARiSE Coffee Roasters is located at: 1-13-8, Koto, Hirano, Tokyo
Allpress Espresso is located at: 3 -7-2 Hirano, Koto, Tokyo