For people who love coffee, one of the best places that you can live is Tokyo right now.
Tokyo is the coffee capital of Asia. Period.
No really, it has so many incredible coffee shops that it’s a wonder how so many of them keep opening every year with such a saturated market. Do you like drip, aeropress or espresso? Lattes or siphon? Tokyo has them all and it’s coming up with some new coffee styles that you didn’t even know you wanted yet (like the unfortunately closed down Ecopresso, which poured a macchiato into a cookie cup).
No matter where you live and work in the city (or in the outskirts), you’ll be able to find a fantastic third wave coffee shop in Tokyo near you. As the organiser of the Tokyo Coffee Lovers Facebook group and a truly addicted caffeineholic (yes, the cafe with that name is on this list too), here is my list of the 21 absolute best coffee shops in Tokyo based on quality, staff and atmosphere and my opinion. In no particular order:
A lot of coffee enthusiasts might protest and tell me that Sarutahiko over-roasts their coffee. They do like a dark French roast, that is true. However, they have a range of options and their espresso is so creamy and caramel-y that I can’t help but recommend them as one of the best cafes in Tokyo. My favourite shop of theirs is in Ebisu, with a little narrow space two minutes walk from the station, and just down the road they have another little shop dedicated to selling their freshly roasted coffee beans. They also have another, more modern looking shop in Atre (pictured).
Even though it is starting to become a popular chain, it still has this rustic “mom and pop shop” kinda vibe, and the staff are so friendly and welcoming it is easy to find myself dropping in almost every time I’m in Ebisu.
Don’t forget to try the ice cream shop next to the Sarutahiko in Shinjuku station (west exit near the Odakyu Line, opposite Yodobashi Camera) that sells Sarutahiko Kenyan coffee ice cream – it is legit mind-blowing coffee ice cream.
Let’s get this one out of the way early on. Blue bottle has become one of the most popular coffee places in the world for people like us who want a really great cup of coffee, every time. Their beans are great (their Hayes Valley espresso is reasonably priced) and definitely a good choice if you’re brewing at home, with a good selection of roasts for your taste. Their design is simple and clean, with light brown hues juxtaposing the stainless steel of their countertops which are always immaculately clean. These guys know what they are doing when it comes to design, and they make sure that their staff know it too.
One thing I will say, though, as with all coffee shops that get popular, is that it is sometimes a pretty impersonal experience. It is also next to impossible to get a seat sometimes, which is why I rarely use it as a location for meetings with friends or clients. It can get pretty noisy.
All in all though, a great coffee chain, and even though it got bought out by Nestle recently I can’t see them changing the winning formula of great coffee and design anytime soon.
Streamer Coffee Company
Shibuya, Roppongi, Tokyo, Nakameguro, Harajuku, Higashi Kitazawa, Higashi-Nihombashi – Check their map of shops here
Another super dark roaster, but this rapidly expanding chain has a real reason for it. Their latte art is probably the best in the business. The dark espresso helps to make the contrast of the white milk foam really stick out. Seriously, just take a look!
It’s also a pretty chill place (at least their flagship store in Shibuya is), with some people coming there to work and enjoy the free wifi with music usually turned down low enough that it isn’t a distraction. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend their beans to take home. They are really darkly roasted and just taste like a typical dark coffee, but they do it on purpose so if that’s what you like, go for it.
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Just upstairs from the Blue bottle in Shinjuku is Verve, an American coffee shop from California. These guys really care about their job, and the staff are friendly and make great coffee every time. Their beans are quite good, though nothing special in the ‘speciality’ coffee world; one good thing is that I think they still give you a free cup of drip coffee when you buy beans from them, which feels like a really great free add-on to the standard price of beans.
The atmosphere and design in the shop are really great, with natural and earthy colours and tones, and a big table in the middle of the shop so people can sit together. It’s a great cafe to check out in Shinjuku if you want a warmer and more personal feeling than the clean, efficient machine of Blue Bottle downstairs.
Nozy, The Roastery
If there is a coffee shop in Tokyo that I have spent the most time at, it would be Nozy. They have it all: passion for their craft, friendly and engaging staff, a sweet location without so much foot traffic that they are busy all day, and some of the best coffee beans in Tokyo (roasted on-site).
There are so many great things I could say about this coffee shop. They do coffee cupping on a Wednesday so you can go in (6:30pm at the time of writing) and learn about how to taste the different flavours of coffee, so really great for long time Starbucks drinkers who can’t tell their Colombian coffee from their Ethiopian. The atmosphere is earthy and they keep the lighting dim, though their tiny side tables leave something to be desired for those of us working remotely, so if you’re bringing some work try to grab one of the front tables.
The only thing that this shop isn’t leading in Tokyo is the latte art. They do a pretty good job, but because they use very light beans, the milk often blends too much with the espresso and fizzles out. Obviously it doesn’t matter much for the taste, which is excellent; they often give you a choice of coffee beans, with the regular being a mellow Honduras coffee that is delightful.
Just go there, it’s too good to miss!
Nem Coffee is the most unassuming and hidden away coffee shop in the whole of Tokyo. It’s a short walk from Hiroo station, just past the National Azabu supermarket that is so popular with foreigners here. This is because it is actually a converted residential house, and it is really cosy because of it. Most times when I go in there there are just a few other customers, and the couple that run the place are so lovely and easy to talk to. They are passionate about their coffee and have made a really nice place for their customers to come and enjoy a nice relaxing cup.
While there is nothing truly unique in the third wave coffee scene about Nem’s espresso drinks (still great), they have such a nice shop and a great atmosphere that it’s still a favourite place of mine to go on days off.
Mojo is a New Zealand based coffee company that came to Japan a few years back, and has been slowly expanding and opening up stores across the city. Their design is undeniably unique, with each shop having their own style and atmosphere, from the modern clean design of the Harajuku cafe to the cups-on-the-wall Kagurazaka store. Their coffee is pretty great, and their beans are both reasonably priced and tasty. I used to go there and pick up their Dr.Mojo’s Magic because of the fantastic blend of Colombian, Guatemalan and Ethiopian beans.
The latte art is pretty standard affair for a modern third wave coffee shop, and I haven’t ever seen anything in one of their signature turquoise cups that made me pull out my phone and take a snap, but it’s flavour that counts and they definitely have that going for them.
Downstairs coffee is an odd one, located in the back of the Mercedes exchange. Not only is their coffee great but the head barista is a world latte art champion 2014, Yusuke Ota. It is a bit strange to have a coffee machine in the back of a car shop, but if that is where you like to work the shop has free wifi for you. They also open at 7am so if you are both unfortunate enough to have to leave for work very early and lucky enough to go past this place on your route to work, you can grab your morning pick-me-up from here.
I have never bought their coffee beans but from what I hear they use Streamers dark roast beans, good for latte art though nothing special on the drinking at home, especially if you are doing pour over or french press (or anything other than espresso).
Oh, this is really one of my favourite coffee shops in the whole of Japan. Though their coffee isn’t god-shot, mind-bendingly incredible (but it is still very good), and their latte art is great but not competition grade, there is one reason why I come here almost as much as I go to Nozy – the people. They are wonderful, friendly, welcoming and passionate as heck about coffee. Really, they are the soul of this place and boy do they have soul!
Even though this shop is tiny (it has five chairs!) it always has customers lining up, all day, every time I visit. The place has a kind of hole in the wall coffee shop kinda vibe, but it opens out onto a small park in Yoyogi so you can sit outside while you enjoy your coffee and enjoy the sounds of birds chirping and children playing. Magic really; it’s one of those chill coffee places that makes me feel so peaceful. Check it out, and you won’t be disappointed by their oatmeal cookie pistachio ice cream sandwiches either (Yes, that’s real).
I love this coffee shop for blending a sort of faux-Japanese interior and front with a very modern and utilitarian environment. This shop is really beautiful, and has fantastic coffee and some really great pastries to boot.
It’s unfortunate that it is less than a 1 minute walk away from the Blue Bottle in Omotesando as there aren’t as many people in there as I feel there should be. Really nice cafe, definitely worth checking out (along with all the dozens of others in Omotesando).
This is without a doubt one of the best cafes in Tokyo to work from as a digital nomad. If you’re a freelancer like myself, you’ll always be on the lookout for a cafe with WiFi to work in, but a lot of cafes in Tokyo either don’t have WiFi or don’t like it when you stick around for four hours… Go figure. Aside from the requirements, though, this place has the best thing you could ask for: real desks and chairs. I mean these babies are the absolute best chairs you’ll ever work from. So comfortable; they must have cost a small fortune!
On top of this the staff are really friendly and don’t seem to mind if you stick around for a bit longer than you might normally feel welcome. They also make a great espresso shot, so I don’t mind grabbing a few of them while I get my work done.
Maruyama is simply one of the highest quality coffee shops on this list. Their care and consideration over each cup of espresso, every drip coffee shows in their presentation and attitude. This cafe has great relationships with the farmers who grow the beans (something they aren’t all that shy about telling you), and offers one of the widest, if not the widest, selections of beans and roasts for you to taste and take home.
My personal favourite is their Cappuccino and Espresso set (it’s a pretty penny at ¥850 or so, but you do get 2 drinks). It lets you try the raw bitter smoothness of the espresso, and then enjoy a milky coffee while you sit and enjoy their minimalist and earthy interior.
While I prefer their Roppongi store for its size and nice work-space, their single origin store in Omotesando is really something special, and tucked away enough that you feel special for finding this little gem of a coffee spot!
Glitch Coffee Roaster
I think of all the coffee spots in this list, this is the one with the most raving fans. People who like Glitch go crazy over their incredible roasts, and it’s not hard to see why. They roast to perfection, and I think the Guatemalan coffee I had there the first time I went in got me hooked on this incredible shop.
Their staff are also super friendly and even in my poor Japanese I had a great ten-minute conversation about all things coffee with the guy behind the bar. Their roaster is also right there in the middle of the shop floor so you can get a good look, which is incredibly cool for me, but probably just window dressing for most people.
Definitely a great place to get your brew. Only problem for me is that it is over on the other side of town. If you’re on the East side (represent!) then this is the place to go.
Roasted Coffee Lab
This is the best coffee place to meet someone for a quiet chat. I go here all the time to meet clients, friends and just to sit and work. Their coffee is fantastic and they have these really cool “Steampunk” machines that do a special kind of robotic french press drink that is just sublime. Their beans are exceptional and the staff are always really nice, and don’t mind if you sit there for hours and hours.
The only thing that bugs me about this place is that they seem to have the same 12 songs or so on repeat. If you stay longer than an hour you’ll start to hear the same tunes over and over again. I don’t know how the staff tolerate it, day-in, day-out. I like “Hey Ya” as much as the next guy, but if I had to hear it once per hour for the rest of my life…?
Yet the coffee is so great I find myself back there almost every time I’m in Shibuya (even with Gorilla Coffee around the corner, though I’d rather not give it space on this list).
Such a cool place tucked away in the infinite side streets of Ikebukuro. Is there anything you won’t find if you just go wondering around those side roads?
So what’s the best thing about this cafe? Aside from its cool interior, design sense and presentation of their coffee beans to take home, they have an epic three drink coffee set to try a black coffee, a cappuccino and a doppio espresso to really sample the flavours of each one. Exquisite!
This is such a cool place in such a touristy neighbourhood. Just get a little bit away from the famous temple and pagoda, and you’ll find the delightful Splendor coffee shop. In the front they have a very cool table (sorry, I didn’t take a great picture of it) with really nice Chesterfield sofas to sit on.
I guess they get quite a few tourists in there because they were super friendly to me and my friend who couldn’t speak any Japanese, and they make a really great brew!
A little bit out of the way, but these peeps really care about the quality of their coffee. First time I went in there I ordered an espresso to see how it tasted, and they pulled the double shot into two little cups a few times, tasting the extraction to make sure the espresso they gave me was creamy and smooth. Yeah, it takes longer, but it made me feel like they really cared about the quality of their product, so I’ll happily go back anytime I’m in the area.
I know, I know… I go on about Omotesando all day but there are just so many good coffee places there!
This one is a little further from the main street, but it is always busy. Part of the reason is definitely their delicious beverages, which compete at the top level with the other great cafes in Omotesando. Another part of it is that I believe the barista behind the bar is the same one who was on the Netflix show, Terrace House! Cool.
I love their big community table in the middle, and have enjoyed a few serendipitous conversations with people in there while I sit and chill with a nice latte and a cookie.
About Life Coffee Brewers
Okay, I know this list has almost entirely been the best espresso places in Tokyo. I have to admit I’m an espresso fan through and through. The thing is, when I’m dying for a good pour-over coffee, this is where I always think of first.
It’s got that great hole in the wall kinda feel, and the people in there are always smiling and friendly. I don’t know why that’s so important to me. I guess because a big part of enjoying coffee culture in Tokyo is the community. Love this spot, go check it out!
Bear Pond Espresso
If I might be so bold, I think this place is almost undeniably the best espresso brewer in Tokyo. It’s just amazing, their macchiato blew my mind to tiny pieces – probably the first god-shot I’ve ever tasted.
(If you don’t know what I mean by “god-shot”, that’s the term that you can use to describe a shot of espresso that makes the heavens open up and reveal to you the secrets of the world.)
It’s just such a shame, then, that the staff in there are so unfriendly. This isn’t just me, I’ve talked to a lot of my friends about this and just about everyone I know who has been there can attest to the fact that the people behind the bar are a bit cold and just want you to drink your drink and leave. There’s no space to work (just tiny little tables here and there), so don’t bother bringing your laptop. Worth going to, though, for their absolutely mind-melting espresso macchiato.
I bet you were wondering when this place would show up!
One of the most well known hipster coffee spots in Tokyo, this place has a glowing reputation with the locals. Their coffee is great (though their beans are some of the most expensive to buy in Tokyo) and the space is so cool it’s on FIRE! Leather couches and a decor straight out of the 60s – it really doesn’t get any better than this.
I have a metaphysical dilemma every time I’m in the area, choosing between this place and the nearby Little Nap, but there is no doubting that Fuglen is a fan favourite in Tokyo. They also have regular public cuppings at their roastery around the corner, so if you want to learn more about how to taste the coffee and pick out the flavours then you might want to go along (they are quite active on Facebook, and post events there).
That’s it! Did your favourite coffee shop make the list?
Remember this is just my opinion, and I live in West Tokyo so that’s where most of the spots I’ve talked about are, but please feel free to comment and share your favourite coffee. Do you make coffee at home or are you always on the hunt for a place to get a drink? If you want to know more about coffee and share your passion, please join my Facebook group, the Tokyo Coffee Lovers!