Japan for the last few years is experiencing a new wave of speciality coffee shops popping up. My first time in Tokyo, in 2012, I got most of my caffeine fix from vending machines, mainly because I did not want to leave the group I was traveling with. I wanted to change that this trip.
With so much coffee shops to try and only so much caffeine my body can take, spending more time at each place would be optimal but what can you do? Of course, there were many missed. Next time. Here’s my top 4 best coffee shops in Japan 2016.
4. The Roastery – Shibuya, Tokyo
This busy little coffee shop, between Shibuya and Harajuku, is located on the curiously named “Cat Street.” Nice place to slow down and rest your tired feet from the day of walking around Shibuya or Harajuku.
They serve coffee by Nozy, a popular coffee shop that specialize in single origin. As such, they have a very simple menu at the main station offering only espresso, Americano, and latte. There are pour overs and French press at the back. They do offer donuts, coffee port beer, and even latte soft ice cream.
I got the latte this visit, which was quite smooth even though I not a latte person; I got it to see their latte art work. A nice touch is that the cashier lets you smell the two single origins available that day before picking your beans.
3. Toranomon Koffee – Toranomon, Tokyo
Of all the coffee shops, Toranomon Koffee was my most anticipated. This is the relocation of the highly praised Omotesando Koffee that was closed due to costly repairs a few years ago. I made sure this place was my first stop.
Located on the 2nd floor of the Mori Building, the sister tower of Roppongi Hills, you will find this sleek, contemporary coffee shop. The place has two wings to handle large volumes of caffeine seekers. They are located in a large business building after all.
I got the hot house blend coffee, Toranomon Koffee, straight black. Smooth and well balanced without much bitterness was my impressions. In addition, you can enjoy your drink at their tables or outside in the building’s patio.
With some many speciality coffee shops popping up in Tokyo, I find it hard to justify the commute for the morning fix if you’re staying near, for example, Shinjuku. Even with that, I would love to revisit this place again in the future and try out their espressos.
2. % Arabica – Kyoto
% Arabica was a pleasant surprise. While my eyes were focused on Tokyo for my high-end caffeine fix, % Arabica blindsided me with their expertise and presentation.
They positioned their two locations, Higashiyama and Arashiyama, near popular tourist spots so there is a good chance of running into one of them while sightseeing. Could be the enchanting atmosphere of Kyoto, but both shops are very modern and sleek looking. Simply put, they were both beautiful in a minimalistic way.
The Arashiyama branch was the one I sampled, which sits next to Katsura River on the way to Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama – lovely view. This shop, by the way, is very cozy and contemporary with large glass windows to stare out at the river. There’s very little seats inside but there benches outside. Beautiful little coffee shop.
Having a simple menu, I tried a hot Americano and, on the way back, an espresso shot; both black. Both good, but the espresso was very nice; very rich and smooth. It was a shame my stay in Kyoto was very short which prohibits me from trying the latte. Highly recommend this place.
1. Lilo Coffee Roasters – Osaka
I don’t know if it was the long day riding the Shinkansen or the walking around Osaka, but for some reason or another, Lilo Coffee Roasters hit the spot on all levels for me; good coffee, excellent service, and great selection of beans.
They carry a much wider array of coffee menu than most of the other speciality coffee shops for those that like options. In addition, Lilo lets you select the beans to determine the amount of acidity, roast, and strength. On top of that, they offer soy milk alternative which is great for someone that is lactose intolerant, like me.
I got myself a lovely Gibraltar, which was the best cup of coffee I had during this trip – great ratio between coffee and milk. Perhaps I was tired, but this was what I was exactly what I needed. I even got a simple drip coffee to-go, afterwards. Lilo gives you a ¥150 discount when you order a 2nd cup; not many other places do this. Honestly, I thought of returning to Osaka before my JR Rail Pass expires just to return here.
The service, as mentioned, was great; the barista even brings the coffee to you. Please make a quick, or extended, visit to Lilo Coffee if you find yourself in Osaka. I look forward to returning playing this place another visit when I return to Osaka in the few years.
**Honorable Mention** Streamer Coffee Company
This was my favorite coffee shop in 2012. Then again, to be fair, I only tried two coffee shops that trip. I was close to putting this fourth on the list but I felt that The Roastery was better.
What attracted me to this place was finding out the owner was a latte art champion. After four years, Streamer is still serving quality coffee with lovely latte art – just look at that photo above. Plus, they have so many locations now, they must be doing well.
I stopped by the main in shop Shibuya and the new one in Harajuku to try their Military Latte – espresso and green tea – and blueberry latte, respectively.
Although the Military Latte was impressive to look at, I felt it was a bit bland for me – want to add that I was getting sick at this point in the trip as my taste might have been affected. The addition of green tea might have diluted the sharp caffeine kick. The blueberry latte, something different, was decent but nothing too special. Still a solid coffee “company,” overall.