A while ago I wrote Runaway Coffee Finds Around the World which included two of the shops mentioned in this post, my original plan was to go back and edit it with more Tokyo shops, shops in Seoul and places we found exploring Kansai but I realized that was just too long. So instead, here are my top five choice to indulge in my addiction in Tokyo.
Oh man, Coutume deserves (and will get) its own write up because the food options here are also fantastic. One of things the Tokyo outpost of this French coffee shop has going for it is that unlike almost every other coffee shop in Asia, it opens before noon. In fact, it opens at 7:30 a.m. which means any future Tokyo trips will definitely include choosing a place to rest our head walking distance from this spot. There's so much going on here. A variety of single origins, your choice for preparation, espresso drinks, dutch coffee/kyoto drip and AND the price range for beverages is $3-$5 (yes, even for a single origin pour over, I can't even). I went here every day my last trip to Tokyo and I bought a bag of beans to bring home to my husband. My only complaint is that I wish the tasting notes had a translation to either English or French because the one I got from google translates didn't make a whole lot of sense (but that's not a real complaint because maybe I should just learn Japanese if I really want to know).
Miyakoshiya seems to have a number of locations all over Tokyo but we only went to the Shimbashi location near our hotel. The Shimbashi location has a decidedly rustic look with lots of polished wood and mismatched tea cups. The first time we went on a week day morning it was empty and they were playing Willie Nelson (my kind of place). We got Guatemala and a Mocha Mattari pour overs. For those not keeping up on their yen to dollar conversions, the Guatemala was just over $7 while the Mocha Mattari was a bit over $10, which is pretty similar pricing to coffee in Seoul. What wasn't similar to most shops in Seoul, was the quality. The Mocha Mattari might be the best coffee I've ever had. I still regret not spending the yen on bringing back some beans. We went back on a weekend day and it was packed and full of smokers (less my scene) and ordered iced coffees. The iced coffees were VERY strong but required quite a bit of milk and sugar to overcome their bitterness. If you go, I'd stick to a week day visit and the single origins. I'm not sure of the actual hours here but I think we went as early as 9:00 a.m.
Cafe de L'Ambre 8-Chome-10-15 Ginza Chuo Tokyo
Opened in 1948, with the original owner still roasting the beans (yes, he is literally 100), Cafe de L'ambre is a must visit for its smokey, bar like atmosphere and amazing vintage decor alone. The menu has both single origin pour overs (done with cloth filters) and numerous iced coffee drinks. Even though there is an English language menu, I ended up with a regular iced coffee instead of the "rich iced coffee" I was trying to order. The regular iced coffee is served with coffee cubes which I really appreciated, however similar to Miyakoshiya, it was very strong and very bitter. I prefer drinking coffee black but I added all of my tiny pitcher of milk and a fair amount of simple syrup. Dan successfully ordered the "water drip" coffee which we think was just straight Kyoto drip/Dutch coffee concentrate in a shot glass. Unlike my iced coffee, it was smooth, rich and delicious with an almost fatty mouthfeel even though it didn't have any sort of milk or cream. Dan definitely won at ordering this round.
Update: I returned to Cafe de L'Ambre at the beginning of December and successfully ordered the rich iced coffee which comes in a cocktail glass and is smooth and delicious. Lara ordered the egg yolk coffee which is very sweet and has to be consumed very quickly or the yolk cooks. It wasn't bad, but it's probably a try it once for the experience sort of drink for most people.
Yep, that Blue Bottle. Just like any Blue Bottle in America, you can expect a bit of a line, the need to be on your toes if you're going to snag a seat and fantastic quality and service. Watching the baristas on the line here is beautiful, fast and efficient, they clearly take pride in their work. I even saw a barista send a cup to the kitchen because he had accidentally moved the cup too fast, slopping a bit over the side! It hadn't even disturbed his latte art! I considered offering to take it, but I don't think that would've gone over well. Unfortunately, unlike American locations, the Aoyama Blue Bottle doesn't open until 10 am so it's better for days with a late start or when you need an afternoon pick me up.
You're probably surprised by the inclusion of a character coffee place in this list which is totally fair BUT don't think just because it has a cute cat this cappuccino isn't good. Even though I did originally choose to go into Clover Cafe because I wanted the novelty of a "only in Japan" adorable coffee, it turns out the drinks here are well balanced with a nice full mouth feel. I'm also in love with the Earl Grey cake. Clover Cafe is right by Senso-ji, so it's a good place to rest your aching feet after exploring the temple and various market streets or if you haven't had your morning cup you can stop by before heading to the temple, since Clover Cafe is another shop that opens bright and early at 7:30 a.m. (8:00 a.m. weekends).