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I Didn't Know Tokyo was a Coffee Destination!

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Because somehow that information didn't make the guidebooks

jars of coffee beans lined up on a counter
So many options- who knew?

I recently went on a trip to Tokyo- a bit of a last-minute decision, and very much a trip where I was just going with the flow of things. In fact, aside from my first night’s hostel booking, there was only one thing I gave forethought to- where I was going to drink coffee.

Yes, I did somewhat plan my trip around coffee. Is that weird?

Google “best coffee shops in Tokyo” and your search will return an enormous bounty of blogs and sites that rank and recommend the most amazing places to get your java fix. It took me quite some time to sift through just a few of them- enough to get ideas, yet not drive myself crazy with options. And there are a LOT of them.  Turns out, craft coffee is a big deal in Tokyo.  And not until I arrived there did I realize how much of Japanese coffee influence we have in the US- think V60 pour-overs and Kyoto drip cold brew, to name a few. Even a stroll down Kappabashi street in Asakusa brought me to specialty coffee equipment shops, full of the craziest (I’m talking glass beaker, science experimenty type) brewing equipment that I’ve ever seen.  I was simultaneously drooling over it and hoping that I didn’t bump into anything like a bull in a china shop. After a few days exploring the lovely area of Asakusa, I actually decided that I needed to move hostels to be closer to the coffee shops I wanted to visit. After plotting them all out on Google maps, I decided to relocate Shibuya (which had more of a glitzy Tokyo vibe anyways).

siphon brewers tokyo
Makes me want to be an expert brewer

kyoto drip brewer
I bet this is expensive to knock over

For me, especially in a massive and overwhelming city such as Tokyo, finding coffee shops to try is one of my favorite ways to explore. I usually pick a place in a neighborhood I want to explore, and after getting my coffee, I wander around.  Or I walk to from one cafe to the next, on foot, taking in everything as I go.

When you can’t decide where to start on a trip, always start with coffee. It is happiness, a necessity, a waypoint, and a destination.
screen shot of google maps with coffee shops flagged
Screenshot from my phone- each flag is a coffee shop I wanted to try

And here is a highlight reel of my Tokyo “tour de coffee.”

***Disclaimer. I pretty much only drink black coffee, and base my judgment of a coffee shop on that. If you get fancy drinks of any sort (and yes, that includes plain lattes), you can’t really taste the coffee in the same way. Which is cheating when you say “but their coffee is so good!” How would you know? It’s diluted. Not the same. ***

Glitch this place is Hipster with a capital H. I will admit that the pour-over into glass beakers was pretty cool. There was a small batch of coffee roasting in the middle of the room as I was there, AND the was a barista wearing a beret. Ticks all the hipster boxes.  The service was slow, which is probably intentional, considering the art of brewing and all. But I was in a rush, so that was problematic. The coffee itself was an Ethiopian- pretty decent considering it was a lighter/medium roast.

February Cafe in Asakusa. Absolutely adorable from the street, and some little seats outside are well set up for watching passersby. The inside is quite small and they were turning people away instead of having them wait. I came to notice that many places in Tokyo are like that- very low occupancy and don’t want you waiting around inside the establishment. The coffee was decent, but not memorable.

bike parked outside of coffee shop in Tokyo

The Roastery practically every blog said to go here.  Great selection of pour overs to choose from- seven, to be exact. And two espresso choices.  I like choices. My coffee came with more information regarding its pedigree than I could use, but I appreciate the details. I tried one of several Costa Ricans they were offering, and it was pretty good.

Chatei Hatouthe “old school Japanese coffee shop” promise is what drew me in. It was dark, with a tree in the middle of it- a bit of a cave vibe. But then there was the menu- $8.50 for a single cup of coffee! You’ve got to be kidding me. However, the lure of “charcoal roasted” beans was strong. I’ve never had charcoal roasted coffee.  The first sip was odd and unfamiliar. The next sips- exotic, complex, smoky, and appealing. It was campfire-y. And robust. Very different from anything I’ve ever tasted, and I’m glad I tried it. But for the price, one cup was enough.

Chatei Hatou tokyo

Good People & Good Coffeeagain, a teeny tiny coffee shop. Like, 2 seats inside. Foo Fighters soundtrack playing in the background. One of the employees was sitting outside chatting with a friend, saw me walk in, served me, then went back outside. Super chill. I had an americano, and I will call this the best cup of coffee I had in Tokyo- strong, bold, and delicious.

good people good coffee tokyo
Good People, Good Coffee

Not to be left out due to the novelty factor- coffee vending machines. I was so curious about coffee for only 100 yen (the choices were vast), and I figured I could just toss it out if it was gross. I picked a canned latte at random, fed the machine my money, and to my surprise… the coffee came out HOT! The expression on my face must have been priceless at that moment- I didn’t know that could happen! What an advanced society! Mind blown! Later on I came to learn that in the vending machines, a blue label under a drink means that it’s cold, a red label means that it’s hot. Oh, the things you learn when you travel.

Those are the highlights of my Tokyo tour de coffee. I actually drank more coffee than just noted here, too.  But I also did lots of stuff that didn’t involve caffeine- like running, walking, and eating. I tried so much ramen, sushi, and anything else that looked odd and appealing and Japanese. Tokyo is seriously an amazing culinary destination! A perfect place to satisfy your inner coffee snob and foodie at the same time.

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