Cafe Culture Japan
Coffee in Japan has for the longest time been synonymous with the syphon and filter processes. However, in recent years the demand for espresso has grown to support a vibrant specialty coffee culture. These are my findings presented in no particular order.
Bear Pond Espresso
Run by formerly New York based ad executive Katsuyuki Tanaka, this little cafe in Shimokitazawa has become a mecca for coffee enthusiasts the world over. His darkly roasted coffee is dosed into 22g baskets and extracted into tight syrupy espressos, producing a rich chocolate taste with an incredible caramel sweetness. While slightly over extracted and short for my tastes, this surprising coffee is worth the visit, though fans of brighter notes may not agree. Be aware of Katsuyuki’s despicably relaxed operating hours of 10:30 - 13:00 Thursday to Monday.
On the Corner
For visitors to Tokyo, On the Corner’s Shibuya location makes it an easy place to recommend. It too serves coffee roasted by Katsuyuki Tanaka of Bear Pond Espresso. However, they also serve single origin coffee extracted in a French-press which is outstanding.
I can barely remember the last time I have encountered such a dark roast profile. As such expect the ristrettos, extracted from large filter baskets, to display a bitter chocolate taste with an ashy finish and viscous mouth feel. It’s long operating hours (08:00 - 19:00 Monday to Friday and 12:00 - 18:00 on weekends) and its Shibuya address make it an easy place to visit. Which may account for the disproportionate number of foreigners, most of which appear to be very impressed with the offering.
This little piece of Oslo nestled beside Yoyogi Park comes with my highest recommendation, an absolutely essential experience. Its dark timber interior is accentuated by Scandinavian classics and sharply dressed staff. It features an array of coffees roasted in Norway, including that of the legendary Tim Wendelboe. Espressos lengthened with milk or water are done so in front of the customer and the filter coffees, produced on an AeroPress, are amongst the best I’ve had. If you visit just one café in Tokyo, this is the one to visit.
Opened in 2009 by Masataka Nojo while he was still a university student. Nozy offers exclusively single origin coffees lightly roasted on site. Of the eight available for purchase two where available to be enjoyed as an espresso. The honey processed Costa Rican was fantastic and at 200 yen it was the cheapest espresso by a large margin, excusing the slightly long extraction.
As in Tokyo, the coffee is roasted to an extremely dark profile, glistening with oils. This is coffee best enjoyed with a touch of milk, as my travel partner (Maggie) concluded. Unlike Tokyo, Osaka serves only take away coffees from a space shared with a fashion boutique. However, its coffee was far more palatable and its single staff member was outstanding.
Vade Mecvm (Osaka)
Fair espresso served from a great space. Maggie asserts this is the second best coffee in Japan. While I enjoyed its proximity to the park in which I enjoyed my take away Americano, as it was too early in the day to sit inside, the privilege of which also comes at an additional cost to the coffee.
While not strictly a café, this CKR designed space bears mentioning for its surprising filter coffee and remarkable Matcha. Though prepared on a V60 the coffee was pre-ground and the filter paper was not washed, even so the result was good. Despite the presents of an espresso machine, don’t expect it to be running. The staff are amazing and may even treat you to something special. This is an essential stop in Kyoto.
The greatest surprise of the trip, this sophisticated specialty roaster and café is located on the little island of Miyajima just outside Hiroshima. Sarasvati offer a great selection of single origins available as espresso or filter coffee. The filter coffee was of a reasonably high standard, with a homely taste but slightly unsatisfying mouth feel. The espresso appealed to both Makiko & Maggie who’s taste are very different from mine and each others, which might suggest a crowd pleasing quality. It’s dimly lit, cozy interior is a great place to pass time.