Most travellers to Japan dream of tasting the best sake and matcha green tea, but that doesn’t stop coffee enthusiasts from taking note of the booming coffee scene the country has brewing. The third wave of coffee in Japan is transforming this caffeinated beverage from a commodity to artisan.
There’s a local speciality coffee shop tucked away at every corner, from the busiest streets of Shibuya to the nooks and crannies of residential neighbourhoods. Being a dedicated coffee enthusiast myself, I’ve used the past two years of my living in Tokyo to discover some hidden gems — especially the ones not on those “Top Tokyo Coffee Shops” listicles.
And from my leisurely adventure, I concluded a list of 7 of my favourite coffee shops in Tokyo — some are the ones on those listicles, but we got to give credit where it’s due.
1. Bear Pond Espresso (Shimokitazawa)
When I thought of this list, this coffee shop was a no-brainer that instantly popped into my head. Nestled away on a quiet street in the trendy and hip Shimokitazawa neighbourhood, Bear Pond Espresso has a special place in my heart. I was introduced to this coffee shop by a friend who used to live in the neighbourhood, and he swore down that this is Tokyo coffee’s prized possession.
I’m a big believer in Google Maps reviews and if you are, too, I advise you to not read them for this one. Sure, the barista lady isn’t a big smiler and you have to wait for more than a few minutes for your cup of energy boost — but it’s all worth it.
Macchiato isn’t a common menu option in Tokyo, but Bear Pond Espresso does it and does it extremely well. Whether it’s a macchiato, latte or a single shot of espresso, coffee from this coffee shop is like drinking molten chocolate with that caffeine buzz — the perfect balance of bitter and sweet.
2. LATTEST (Omotesando)
When I first discovered this coffee shop, my intention was clear: to try their coffee. For a solid year and a half, I had no idea LATTEST is more known for its association with a Terrace House star who happens to be a barista there. Regardless, conveniently located in the heart of Tokyo’s shopping district, Omotesando, this espresso bar is a hit among locals and travellers alike.
Have your pick from their expansive coffee menu that features limited-time seasonal beverages. LATTEST’s signature drink is served in a shot glass, filled with cold milk and an espresso shot of their original dark roast. I would describe it as strong and bitter, with a tingling cacao and almond aftertaste.
Those not a big fan of the LATTEST blend can opt for the medium roast blend — just the right level of bitterness for you to enjoy the citrusy notes.
There’s something about this coffee shop that gets me coming back, other than the coffee. It might be the accompanying sweets of cookies and cakes, but it might also be the cosy and peaceful ambience that LATTEST has made their own.
3. Streamer (Naka-Meguro)
This coffee company has a few shops all around the city, but I personally only ever went to Streamer’s Naka-Meguro coffee shop. I’ll begin by admitting that their cup of joe is slightly more expensive than usual, but when the dark roast hits you, the extra buck or two is worth it.
I’ve had my fair share of conversations over coffee at this very spot — whether it’s a hot summer’s day cooled down by a refreshing iced Streamer Latte with a complimentary granola bar or a windy spring afternoon sipping hot Mocha Supreme while admiring the cherry blossoms.
If you’re getting the mocha, prepare for a strong hit of cacao flavour as you’re getting chocolate on top of Streamer’s already chocolate-tasting dark roast blend.
Compared to the other outlets, the Naka Meguro one definitely has a homey welcome — after all, their doors are open to dogs, too.
4. Otsuki Kōhī-ten (Shukugawara)
This coffee shop is a genuine hidden gem — I wouldn’t have found Otsuki Kōhī-ten if I hadn’t gone apartment-hunting in the area. This speciality coffee shop blends in seamlessly with the rest of the narrow street by Shukugawara Station. From what I can tell, Otsuka Kōhī-ten is run by a sweet family who is dedicated to their craft.
Nothing can beat their cup of latte — not in quality nor price. At just ¥300 ($3), you’ll be surprised at the quality of this cup of joe. While the espresso they use for their coffee menu is a medium roast blend, Otsuki Kōhī-ten also sells imported and local beans, ranging from light to dark roast.
My favourite drink from this coffee shop is their condensed milk latte. Instead of adding sugar or syrup, you get condensed milk that sweetens it up. It’s, by far, my favourite cup of joe in Tokyo — it reminds me of the Malaysian “teh tarik” or “pulled tea”, just the coffee version.
5. IRON COFFEE (Gotokuji)
I moved apartments a lot in Tokyo, and when I settle down in an area, I like to find coffee options closest to me. In another neighbourhood that I used to live in, I discovered IRON COFFEE. They aren’t tucked away in a quiet street — they are in plain sight, smack in the middle of the neighbourhood’s main street.
They have about five menu choices — drip, espresso and latte are among them. You got a few options of blends for drip, ranging from fruity to bitter. Espresso has only one blend usually, and unlike the previous coffee shops mentioned, IRON COFFEE’s blend is a soft and light one but still gives you the caffeine hit you need.
This coffee stand is the perfect pick-me-up stop before exploring Tokyo’s popular cat temple nearby.
6. Almond Cafe (Yoyogi)
If you try to find this coffee shop on Google Maps, you’ll get a listing for a hostel instead. That’s because Almond Cafe is two-in-one, and I gotta say, having the option to pop down to your hotel lobby’s cafe in the heart of Tokyo for an exceptional cup of coffee sounds like a dream.
I came across this coffee shop by accident — I was starving and their toasties menu looked delicious (and it was). Little did I know their coffee was, too. As usual, I ordered a latte. Two options were given: their original blend or a fruity one. Since I wasn’t alone, I managed to try both and I was pleasantly surprised.
Almond Cafe’s original blend was a deep, dark roast. Anyone who prefers the bitterness on the tongue will love this choice; I prefer a light to medium heaviness, so the fruity blend was refreshing. It’s exactly how it sounds — citrusy and sweet. If I find myself a tourist in Tokyo and want to stay in the buzzing Yoyogi neighbourhood, I’ll book a room here so that I can get that fruity blend every day.
7. Garden House Crafts (Daikanyama)
I admit, I sometimes judge a coffee shop by its cover. When it comes to Garden House Crafts in Daikanyama, I’m glad I did — its exterior with the terrace seating is just as splendid as its cup of coffee. This coffee shop is more of a brunch cafe, and its main offerings are pastries and sandwiches with coffee as an aside. Don’t get me wrong — their coffee left a mark. After all, they’ve collaborated with Woodberry Coffee Roasters for their coffee menu.
The last time I went there, I had options of two blends for espresso — I believe they change it up every now and then, because the first time I went, I don’t remember being given a choice of a blend. What I do remember is that the coffee was perfect for my coffee preference — it’s sweet while still being bitter enough that you can taste the caffeine.
Tokyo is huge and there are hundreds of coffee shops still yet to be discovered. The best ones are the underrated ones, come across unexpectedly and leave you with pleasant memories. All of these coffee shops above are memorable because I have fond recollections of them during my time in the city — of course, with an exceptional cup of coffee in hand.