It's no question that Tokyo has an amazing coffee scene – and it's growing rapidly. Local cafés and traditional kissaten are now joined by independent and small-batch roasters who source, roast and blend their own beans, and we Tokyoites are better for it.
For your daily dose of caffeine, a visit to one of these local roasters is more rewarding than ever as many of them roast their beans right on site – you can pick up a bag of freshly roasted coffee to go after enjoying an energising shot on the spot. So upgrade your next coffee run by heading to some of our favourite roasters in the city, and don't forget to try out their signature roast/blend.
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The caffeine dealers
There’s a bright and sunny demeanour to Little Darling Coffee Roasters and it feels like you’ve been transported to California. This spacious café and roastery is part of the Share Green Minami Aoyama retail and event space, whose beautiful grounds feature repurposed warehouses and a manicured lawn adorned with lush greenery courtesy of the neighbouring florist and nursery, Solso Park.
Head barista Naoya Akagawa, who was a Coffee Fest Latte Art World Championship Open finalist, handpicks five beans and roasts them on-site two to three times a week, after which they are packaged into 100g and 200g bags. The house blend, with the twee name ‘My Bestfriend’s Crush’, is a medium to dark roast of beans from Brazil, Ethiopia, Laos and Colombia. If you’re drinking in, you can choose your preferred brewing method, whether it’s American press or filter. For snacks, the Chinese-inspired bao sandwiches with a variety of fillings are a crowd-pleaser; otherwise, there’s also coffee soft-serve and pastries (including a selection from Beaver Bread in Nihonbashi).
This Sydney transplant has been in the coffee business since 2003 before deciding to set up an outpost in Tokyo’s sumo heartland, Ryogoku, in 2014 on the cusp of the coffee boom in Japan. Single O prides itself on securing ethically-sourced coffee, which it roasts three times a week from Tuesday to Thursday. The tasting bar, however, is only open Saturday to Monday, meaning it only serves coffee on those days. The warehouse-like space is all about keeping it real, with the aforementioned bar and few seats scattered amongst sacks of coffee.
Single O’s roasting style is very measured; it’s always about highlighting the beans’ natural flavours. The vibrant Reservoir house blend of Costa Rican and Ethiopian beans is a winner, producing an acidic brew that’s bright with citrus notes. The packaging for the 1kg bags is just as interesting – it’s used to showcase works by local artists, and its design changes every three months. Used bags brought back by customers are recycled into trendy little pouches and sold online. If you’re looking to delve deeper into coffee, watch out for Single O’s monthly cupping events, which are also available in English.
Six-year-old Switch Coffee has expanded with a second location in Yoyogi-Hachiman but all the roasting is still done at its original Meguro outlet. Beans are sourced from farmers in Honduras, Kenya and the like while roasting is done about four times a week to turn out approximately five single-origin roasts and a seasonal espresso blend (on our visit, it was a full-bodied Brazil and El Salvador mix).
The setup is rather basic with not much seating except for a bench outside, and that’s because the owners believe that with the right beans, home-brewed coffee can be just as good. In fact, Switch’s single-origin beans are made especially for the home, and the staff are more than happy to provide brewing tips and guidance.
If you’re looking to drink on the spot, the straightforward menu makes it easy to choose among five hot and cold beverages: drip coffee, latte, cappuccino and two specials, an espresso tonic and a coffeespirit mix, which is usually iced coffee with rum in summer and a warm latte spiked with rum during the cooler months. Switch also offers a coffee bean subscription, so if you’re living in Japan, you can get a bag of the featured beans delivered to your door for just ¥2,800 a month.
Out of Coffee Wrights’ four Tokyo locations – including Sangenjaya, Omotesando and Shibaura – the main roastery and café at Kuramae is the most unassuming of the lot. While it may not look as polished as its sister outlets on first impression, the factory-like ground floor space has a very pragmatic setup that puts the focus squarely on the roasting process. Here the beans are roasted every two to three days, resulting in an ever-changing selection of six single-origin roasts and a Brazilian decaf, which carries toasty, caramelly notes reminiscent of almonds and dark chocolate.
The second floor space, however, is a different story. While downstairs is all business, the upstairs café is about enjoying the fruit of the roast. All decked out in wood finishing, its minimalist cool vibe is made for lingering over coffee, pastries (we love the seasonal mango tart in summer) and free wi-fi. Aside from freshly roasted beans, brewing paraphernalia and single-use filter coffee emblazoned with witty catchphrases (‘I can’t espresso my feeling’), Coffee Wrights also produces its own merchandise including t-shirts and canvas totes.
Located in a quiet corner of Shibuya, Heart’s Light Coffee found a home in a clean, modern space and suffused it with great music courtesy of an extensive vinyl collection. The copper-plated roaster is particularly eye-catching; it comes from Turkey and is one of a kind in Japan. While the shop roasts its beans roughly four times a week, it also lends out the roaster as a community service to other cafés. One of the two owners also handmade a spinning coffee dripper, making it that much easier for the baristas to make pour-overs.
The house blend is the lightly roasted Heart’s Merge, a mix of Panama and Papua New Guinea that carries hints of berry jam, almonds and hazelnuts, and it’s perfectly suited for drip coffee. Heart’s Light Coffee also does interesting twists on milky coffee. There’s a banana latte and also an ‘iced’ latte that contains no ice. It’s simply cold milk topped with a shot of espresso, creating a photogenic layer effect with the black coffee floating on top of the white milk. Good news for music lovers: if you buy 200g of coffee beans, the shop lets you pick out a complimentary record from the collection to take home with you. Cool, eh?
The commercial hub of Ginza may be the last place you’d expect to find a local and independent coffee roaster, but Toriba Coffee is just that. A gorgeous golden-hued space of high ceilings and shiny chrome fixtures, this boutique coffee specialist makes a wonderful pitstop for freshly roasted beans as well as a caffeine boost at the tasting bar.
The roasting process happens on the second floor – just ask the staff and they’ll take you upstairs for a look – and the beans then get transported down via a dumbwaiter. Toriba offers five signature blends using a variety of beans from across the coffee-producing world, plus one single-origin Kona coffee that’s harvested from its very own plantation in Hawaii. The roasts are just as varied, with options from light to medium, dark and even acidic, and there’s merchandise too, including coffee-flavoured awamori (Okinawan rice liquor).
At the ground-floor tasting bar, the daily coffee features two of the six house blends. Unbeknownst to the throngs of shoppers here, it also offers takeaway coffee from just ¥100 (roast of the day or single espresso) between 2pm to 7pm, an anomaly in this expensive neighbourhood. Otherwise, a cappuccino will only set you back ¥300. Psst… there’s another bar up on the fourth floor serving cocktails using Toriba’s coffee – you can also sit here between 2pm and 6pm on weekends and just enjoy the coffee from the tasting bar.
Hidden down the backstreets of Ebisu, this charming space is everything you hope for from a quaint little neighbourhood coffee shop. It’s reassuringly homely, set in a remodelled house whose entrance is almost entirely covered up by lush leafy plants. It’s the perfect place to stay idle over coffee and cake (the gorgonzola cheesecake is a winner), but make sure to check out the second-floor gallery for its selection of handbags, jewellery and ceramics by local designers.
Drip Bar started out as a retail shop in Aoyama with a small coffee counter before moving to its current Ebisu hideout to focus on the beans. The four-man team deals directly with farmers mostly in Africa and South America, while the roasting happens weekly at another location near Kichijoji, which sells beans but doesn’t serve coffee. So this offshoot café offers a better experience, as you can drink in and also buy beans from as little as 30g.
With a focus on single-origin varieties, Drip Bar roasts its beans in small batches to maintain greater control over quality while minimising waste. Each cup of coffee is handdripped to order, using exclusive drippers made to fit just 15g of ground coffee at a time. The dual-language menu is straightforward, with six bean options organised from the lightest to the darkest roast.
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