With the recent closing of Omotesando Koffee, a shop that became a destination cafe due to its iconic style, the first coffee guide here at TokyoCoffee.org had to be rethought. (If you were a fan of their coffee Toranomon Koffee in Toranomon, Minato-ku will take care of you. Their cafe space and design is breathtaking) Fortunately, the Shibuya area is arguably the heart of the specialty coffee scene in Tokyo so there are plenty of options for the curious coffee addict to choose from. This is also an opportunity to introduce a few more serious coffee shops in this city, which helps with Tokyo Coffee’s mission: To be a guide to the third wave coffee and specialty coffee scenes in Tokyo.
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.
Hikarie is a massive high-end department store that is built into one of the far corners of Shibuya Station. There on the B2 floor you’ll find Paul Bassett Coffee’s Shibuya location. (Called Le Chocolate de H/ Paul Bassett) Paul Bassett cafes are important to the Tokyo coffee scene. Many of the top coffee shops in Tokyo have baristas and roasters who’s coffee careers started at Paul Bassett.
This cafe matches its surroundings, meaning it feels classy and is a bit expensive. They aren’t all image, so don’t worry. The espresso is solid. The deep chocolatey notes are apparent, but they don’t wash out the citrusy highs and the lemon peel like acidity. You can sit with your espresso or latte and feel a little fancy for a moment while taking secret pleasure knowing that the Tokyo third wave coffee scene may not have happened without Paul Bassett.
A little north of Hikarie you’ll soon find the exceptionally cool On the Corner restaurant just off the main drag. Inside of On the Corner is Bear Pond Espresso’s satellite location: No. 8 Bear Pond. The original Bear Pond in Kitazawa is somewhat of a legend amongst coffee pilgrims throughout the world. Here at No. 8 you will not be able to sample the legendary Angel Stain espresso. That is only served in limited quantities and is only prepared by Bear Pond’s owner Katsu Tanaka at the main shop. You will, however, get to try other espresso based drinks such as a macchiato or a latte. They do a great job with those. The espresso is roasted a bit dark, and is seemingly formulated to cut through the milk to give the drinker a full flavored coffee experience while sipping down their macchiato. So, is all the hype around Bear Pond justified? I’ll leave that to you to decide! Just like Bear Pond in Kitazawa, no photography is allowed of the shop interior. You can snap a shot of your drink if you’re polite about it though.
If you head roughly northeast from there you’ll be on your way to Streamer Coffee. Streamer is the flagship cafe of latte art legend Hiroshi Sawada. Hiroshi’s a busy guy these days so it’s unlikely that you’ll run into him in the cafe, but you will have a chance to see some spectacular latte art. Streamer’s real specialty is creamy, decorative lattes, and their espresso is a dark chocolatey, slightly bitter variety. So, if you have no interest in latte art, you may want to skip this shop.
Now you’ll be just a skip away from Cat Street, a young, fashionable stretch of shops and boutiques frequented by people who match those adjectives. so hop on over and poke around the shops and restaurant stalls. When you’ve had your fill of the young and the marvelous you may want to treat yourself to something a little classy as well. I suggest a shot of espresso from the nearby The Roastery by Nozy Coffee. You can’t get much classier than a shot of espresso served up in a champagne flute, trust me. Several of the best shots I’ve drunk in Tokyo have come out of this amazing space. There are always two single origin varieties to choose from and they change every few weeks. Their tasting notes are always spot on. Looking for the noted flavors while you enjoy your shot really adds to the experience. Read more about The Roastery here: The Roastery by Nozy Coffee
Once you’ve walked the length of Cat Street you’ll pop out in the general Jingumae/Omotesando area of Shibuya. A left will take you towards Harajuku station, the beautiful Meiji Jingu shrine, and Yoyogi park. All must sees in Tokyo. Right will bring you to Omotesando, a great place to shop if you are into fashion.
Each of the cafes featured in this walk offer very different experiences. They also all offer unique flavors and approaches to coffee. By experiencing each of these places you really can get a feel for where the Japanese specialty coffee industry is. So, enjoy!
Le Chocolate de H/ Paul Bassett is located at: 2-21-1, Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo B2F
No. 8 Bear Pond is located at: 1-17-1, Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Streamer Coffee Shibuya is located at: 1-20-28, Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
The Roastery by Nozy Coffee is located at: 5-17-12, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo