Words by Kenichi Eguchi Photographs by Lou Mora
Spotlight on five of our favorite coffee shops across Tokyo.
Little Nap is no ordinary café. Its size defines it as a coffee stand. Overlooking the back of Yoyogi Park, the café is in a residential neighborhood inhabited by Tokyo’s creative population. Offering minimal seating, Little Nap represents the trend of Tokyo coffee stands—a reaction to the expensive rent. It embodies owner Daisuke Hamada’s idea of how coffee should be enjoyed. Its contemporary laid-back design was inspired by the idea of a boot repairman’s workshop. While he is equipped with the tools to brew coffee by hand, Hamada is also an expert at using both coffee and espresso machines. He can fine-tune the machines to fit the day’s conditions, and there are few baristas with this expertise. But Hamada has his hands on everything. At the time we made our visit, he was busy designing a recording studio. He organizes music events and produces other coffee shops. He is the man behind Bridge in the downtown Kappabashi district, which is known for kitchen tools. He has an extension at Vacant in Harajuku. Bands frequent his shop when they’re in town. People chat him up for information on what’s going on in town, and you can tell he enjoys the company.
Address: 5-65-4 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku
9 a.m.–7 p.m. (Closed Mondays) / littlenap.jp
K is for “koffee,” “kiosk” and Kunitomo. Eiichi Kunitomo is no newcomer to the coffee business. In fact, he is considered a veteran of managing and producing coffee shops, which makes his move to open Omotesandō Koffee even more interesting. The kiosk is nestled in a traditional Japanese house, off a side street in Omotesandō. Through the wooden gate, you step over the porch where previous residents may have left their shoes. Now taking center stage is a square counter with a Cimbali machine where Kunitomo and his staff serve coffee to order. Despite the trend in drip, he works with machines, and the cappuccino and macchiato—in a choice of glass, ceramic or paper cups—can be sipped in the small garden or taken out. There is no seating indoors, which was Kunitomo’s way to cope with the high rent and still serve quality coffee. He is polite and meticulous, wearing a pharmacist-style coat with a cube logo on the front, and there are cube motifs everywhere; even the cakes are in small cubes. The small cube container made of used coffee grounds makes a good souvenir, but they go fast, so grab one while you can.
Address: 4-15-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
10 a.m.–7 p.m. (may close without notice) / ooo-koffee.com
Bread, Espresso &
During your stroll through Omotesandō, you may encounter people with paper bags that say Bread, Espresso &. These are from a café and bakery run by Kunitomo of Omotesandō Koffee, which is close enough if you need to nibble on something or want to sit down—past the tonkatsu restaurant Maisen and the Lotus Café. Once you’re there, you’ll smell the freshly baked pastries that are coming straight out of the oven. Some of the loaves come in small cubes. In the warmer months, it would be nice to sit outside. The coffee is probably superior at Omotesandō Koffee, but at Bread, Espresso &, they will still brew coffee to order. Another establishment that Kunitomo is involved with is Kitsuné, which he runs with his friends Gildas and Masaya, near the Omotesandō crossing; if you visit, you can see the variety of work he does.
Address: 3-4-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
8 a.m.–8 p.m. / bread-espresso.jp
Be a Good Neighbor
Probably the smallest of the bunch, Be a Good Neighbor is definitely a coffee stand. Four or five people will easily pack the counter. The friendly manager behind the counter, Kajihara, is keen on introducing you to the various ways of enjoying coffee. When we were there, he let us sample extremely light Ethiopian beans using the AeroPress. From what looked like weak coffee came a rich floral aroma, and it was the perfect coffee on a day when we had had too many cups already. Be a Good Neighbor is in Landscape territory. Shinichiro Nakahara of Landscape Products, who is well connected with Heath Ceramics in California, opened the furniture store Playmountain near Sendagaya Elementary School. The area features some of his own ventures such as Tas Yard (a café serving food with a pop-up shop for local wares), Chigo for children’s products, as well as Papier Labo (original paper products) and Tembea (a quality Japanese canvas bag brand). It’s a great area to check out.
Address: 3-51-6 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku
Monday–Friday, 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m. / Saturday, Sunday and holidays, 11:30 a.m.–5 p.m. / beagoodneighbor.net/sendagaya
Many people used to say coffee in Tokyo was expensive. I used to think so, too. But then, with all the franchise coffee shops around, you have to wonder if you’re getting your money’s worth. Café Bach is a coffee shop that has been around for 40 years, from when the area was called Sanya, almost a synonym for skid row. It’s near a bridge called Namidabashi (tear bridge) that became a popular backdrop for a classic manga, and nowadays the flophouses cater to foreign travelers. Café Bach has explored the Japanese way of brewing coffee and has trained people who now run coffee shops all over Japan. They are students of the Bach school, and Mamoru Taguchi is their mentor. He holds what he calls “seminars” for free, for whoever’s interested in delivering a decent drip. Sure, it is old-school, but somehow—now that contemporary coffee enthusiasts have seen the world and come back to their roots, and now that the trend is in drips—he is much respected. So it might be a good idea to include this in your list of destinations and book a seminar.
Address : 1-23-9 Nihonzutsumi, Taito-ku
Telephone : 03-3879-2669
8:30 a.m.–9 p.m. (closed Fridays) / bach-kaffee.co.jp
Kenichi Eguchi is a writer, editor and book translator. He offers workshops and catering services under the name “food+things” and runs the online film magazine Outside in Tokyo.