Tokyo's café culture is a fascinating mix of the old and the new. Take a look at our list of critics-approved, most in-demand speciality coffee shops, classic Japanese kissaten and artisanal tea rooms – all great places to spend a few quiet moments in the city.
The best of 2017
For years, Tokyo's caffeine addicts have been spoiled with an overflowing supply of 'third wave' coffee shops, while green tea – Japan's native pick-me-up – has been left by the wayside. But times they are a-changin'. First up is Sangenjaya's austere Tokyo Saryo, which offers single-origin green tea in hand drip form. The folks behind the lightly decorated shop have even developed their own tea dripper, which is supposed to help bring out the full flavours of the leaves. If you're looking to further your tea education, order the tasting set and enjoy a wide variety of aromas and tastes – and don't forget to also explore the sweet selection, which includes a tasty hojicha blancmange, dried fruit and ohagi (mochi balls with anko).
Ever hoped you had a more colourful latte? Enter Roar, where your cuppa gets spruced up big time with some rainbow latte art. As long as there's milk involved, the baristas here can transform your coffee into an iridescent work of art. First, choose either their signature latte or go for a honey version, or even a salted caramel latte. For the base, you have the option of letting them pour in the coffee before or after creating the picture; the former results in a coffee-coloured base, while the latter means a white background for your image (see the photos above to get an idea). And rest assured: such a fancy look doesn't mean that they've neglected taste, as all beans used here are roasted in-house.
Not all kissaten (old-school coffee shops) in Tokyo are worth the moniker, but this one sure makes the grade: stained-glass windows, antique clocks and the soft jazz soundtrack make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Founded in 1975, Monozuki offers a very simple menu – black coffee is the main attraction – but is beloved by both locals and former Nishi-Ogi-ites who come here to savour the flavours of a bygone era.
Daisuke Matsushita's Davide is a very decent take on an Italian streetside café, sidestepping drip coffee entirely (simply because it takes too long to brew) and offering excellent espresso and latte instead. Down yours at the counter or just get one to go – the man in charge of the machine doesn't care either way. Still, you just might find yourself lingering, as the mainly turquoise-coloured interior is rather fun to look at. The ground floor also has a bright orange wall and exudes a busy atmosphere, while the smaller space upstairs is more relaxing. There's also a basement, which is opened for the occasional pop-up shop, exhibition or other event.
The Maison Kitsuné brand has fingers in several pies – fashion, music and, it seems, coffee. Grab a well-brewed cup in the Japanese-style café close to the Maison Kitsuné shop in Omotesando, and browse merchandise such as tote bags and coffee cups. The décor incorporates Japanese touches like custom-made tatami and fusuma sliding doors.
Opened in 1980, Trois Chambres feels a world away from the busy streets of Shimokitazawa. Antique cups line the shelves, regulars strike up conversation over the counter and the corner tables are practically always occupied by someone reading a book – time truly appears to stand still at this kissaten, which might even feel a little intimidating for first-timers. But fear not: the fellow running the show here is friendly and subtle, the cheesecakes (both rare and baked) are heavenly and ¥250 gets you coffee with a free refill.
There are some things that Japan really gets right. Tea is one, garden landscaping is another. And creating a calm space within a massive busy city is also right up there. Kosoan offers all three. As we walked up the road from Jiyugoaka Station, we caught sight of the immaculate old Japanese house that you would walk past if you didn’t know there was a teahouse inside. Inside, we breathed in the grassy tatami and then found a spot on the floor around one of the low tables. They have both Japanese and English menus (the latter with pictures for easier ordering) with set choices basically consisting of a hot or cold drink and a sweet treat.
You really have to visit this place for yourself to make sense of it all. We'd describe this Asakusa café as a mishmash of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland with a dash of Wes Anderson. The entrance is through a yellow door above which an old signboard for 'Furta Shoes' still hangs strong. Inside, the world of Chocolate Jesus is on full display, with pink walls and crockery worthy of the Queen of Hearts. The interior was DIY'd together by the owner, Chiho Hirano, who says that her inspiration was the video for Björk's 'Venus as a Boy'. Menu-wise, expect coffee and blended teas, with a smattering of handmade cheesecake and scones thrown in for that extra tea party touch. Chocolate Jesus is usually open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, but as Hirano likes taking random days off, best check her Instagram before you head for this wonderland.
Stepping through the low, marble-tiled entrance, the first thing you’ll notice is the gorgeous tableware displayed behind a long hardwood counter. That’s not to say that the surroundings here outshine the coffee – on the contrary, Satei Hato’s hand-drip offerings maintain the absolutely highest quality. Choose from up to eight varieties of charcoal-roasted beans and watch as the formally dressed staff prepare your treat with almost religious dedication. At ¥850 and up, the coffee here doesn’t exactly allow for everyday consumption, but any true enthusiast will do well to visit Satei Hato at least once.
More from Love Tokyo Awards 2017
Time Out Tokyo's annual Love Tokyo Awards is all about celebrating the best of the city. Here are the winners in five main categories: Restaurant, Bar, Café, Shop and Product. On top of that, we have also selected four essential activities of the year and five outstanding personalities who have made a big impact on Tokyo in 2017.