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The best coffee in Tokyo

Chase the Starbucks blues away in the capital

Photo by James Hadfield
Best coffee in Tokyo? Shimokitazawa’s Bear Pond is a strong candidate

Tokyo: nice city, shame about the coffee. This used to be a standard complaint amongst foreign residents and visitors alike, with even people who'd considered themselves permanently indisposed to Seattle's most famous coffee export being forced to seek out the 'Bucks in order to get a cup of Joe that seemed even halfway worthy of the name. And while part of the problem was down to ignorance (Café de l'Ambre has been open since 1948, for crying out loud), the good places generally took a lot of effort to find, with shops specialising in espresso drinks being particularly thin on the ground.

No more. The last few years have seen a sharp increase in the number of serious-minded coffee makers plying their trade around the capital, many of them roasting their own beans and wielding heavy-duty espresso machines. Moreover, with the odd exception, most of them actually know what they're doing. Time Out spent a few over-caffeinated weeks trawling around the city in search of Tokyo's best coffee shops, and we were impressed by how many good places we found. Read on for our favourites, and make sure to also check out our picks of the best artisanal coffee shops.

Reviews by James Hadfield and Jon Wilks

Streamer Coffee Company

While the free wifi and communal seating are nice touches, it's the 'extreme' latte art of Hiroshi Sawada and his crew that keeps people coming back to this Shibuya staple.

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Omotesando Koffee

Coffee dispensaries don't get more unusual than this one, where espressos are whipped up within a cube frame deposited inside a 60-year-old wooden house.

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Mojo Coffee

Friendly, English-speaking staff whip up piccolos and flat whites at this Kagurazaka-based outpost of New Zealand's Mojo Coffee, which sits atop its very own roastery.

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Little Nap Coffee Stand

You'll be getting your latte in a paper cup at this friendly little shop, whose location just across the road from Yoyogi Park makes it perfect for caffeine-craving picnickers.

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When it isn't whipping up cocktails, this Oslo import serves some distinctive Norwegian roasts. The espressos are good, but the AeroPress coffees are outstanding.

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Sarutahiko Coffee

Ebisu's dinkiest coffee spot serves satisfying lattes and drip brews at a location that's ideally positioned to snare office drones on their way to work.

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Bear Pond Espresso

If you can get past the fussy rules and occasionally truculent service, they've got the best espresso in Tokyo: a syrupy trickle that's unbelievably potent.

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Nozy Coffee

The kids behind the counter are barely out of university, but they're already making some of the best coffee in town – and supplying beans to many other cafés.

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Caffé Fresco

This unprepossessing Asagaya café opened a decade ago and has been getting increasingly serious about its coffee ever since. The owner pulls a mean shot.

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Lo Spazio

Think of it as a local hangout transplanted from Italy to the suburbs of Tokyo, complete with shabby decor, casual food and some seriously good coffee.

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Amameria Espresso

Worth a detour to Musashi-Koyama, this intimate shop offers consistently good espresso drinks, and sells all the gear you need to make your own.

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Coffee Amp

It's hard to believe that Koenji managed to go for so long without a single decent coffee shop. Coffee Amp addresses that deficiency with panache (and own-roasted beans).

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Coffee Tei

Try not to get distracted by the decor – equal parts British pub and British tea room – and dive into a coffee menu that's the size of a small guide book.

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Coffee Western Kitayama

They give the impression that they'd much rather have no customers at all, but if you can get through the door, the brews at this Ueno café are superb.

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Café de l'Ambre

'Coffee Only' reads the sign outside this bustling shop, which has been keeping the Ginza hordes well caffeinated since 1948. Unpretentious, with aged beans aplenty.

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Guild Coffee

With seating for just four people, this Kagurazaka shop is clearly aiming more at the takeaway crowd, and the coffee is a steal if you're ordering it to go.

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Maruyama Coffee

Chairman of the international Cup of Excellence competition, Kentaro Maruyama offers only the classiest cups of Joe at this Oyamadai café, many using Grand Cru beans.

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Coffea Exlibris

'This is going to be different,' promises the menu, and they aren't lying. Tuck into a strong selection of single-origin coffees at this secretive Shimokitazawa spot.

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Harmony Coffee

Sparsely decorated with a collection of antique coffee percolators, Harmony Coffee is as quaint as the name suggests. Meticulously prepared coffee, minimal seating.

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Cafe Obscura

Brush up your cultural cred at this Sangenjaya café, where the siphon coffee is accompanied by a well chosen library of art and design books that you're free to peruse. 

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Mocha Coffee

Owner Hussein Ahmed imports beans from his native Yemen, and his café doesn't sell coffee from anywhere else. Expect some robust, explosive flavours.

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Sarugaku Coffee

So popular that it even comes with a decoy coffee shop, Sarugaku actually lives up to the hype. Perfect if you prefer to drink your Joe like a fine wine.

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