Japan for coffee addicts
When it comes to finding a decent cup of coffee in Japan, as the saying goes, there’s some good news and some bad news.
The good is you can get amazing coffee big cities, like Tokyo and Kyoto.
The bad - you will usually have to wait til at least 10 am (often midday or even later) for your first hit.
For the caffeine-sensitive coffee lovers like me, that second revelation posed a bit of a challenge during my recent trip to Japan. I’m more a savour-a-strong-espresso before breakfast kind of gal, rather than drink it all day and keep it coming!
Like coffee, breakfast is a late affair. Beyond the 24 hour diners (where you order and pay for your meal at a vending machine before being seated), or rice balls from convenience stores - finding that first meal of the day can be challenge for travellers.
I didn’t risk the beverages in either of those early morning options, nor the machines that vend a can of hot or cold coffee. Though did resort to using some supermarket bought pour over ground coffee bags a couple of times.
But there were some standout coffee shops, though they had little or no breakfast options.
Frankie is right at home in hipster Shimokitazawa. I spied it on the first night and thought it had a very familiar look. Straight out of Melbourne like the owner, this café not only makes exceptional coffee but also an assortment of Australian cakes and slices to go with your flat white. Coffee is Allpress (and they also sell Aeropress's if you want a lightweight travelling companion).
Opens most days at 10 am (just look for the queue of Australasians waiting to get in). Check the website, as their hours have recently changed.
400Yen for your long black or flat white.
155-0031 Setagaya-ku, Tokyo Kitazawa 2-chome, 12-15
Shimokitazawa is a great suburb for coffee lovers, at least for the ones who don’t need a hit early in the day. All theseplaces looked amazing, just maddening closed when I needed a hit. If staying in this neighbourhood again, I’d pick up an Aeropress from Frankie and stock up on freshly ground beans around the corner at Maldive.
Sarutahiko in Ebisu is unique in its offerings. This tiny café has great music, outstanding coffee and a (single) breakfast option. But add free Wi-Fi (another rarity in this technologically advanced country) and wait for it – 7.30 am opening (weekdays, 10 am weekends) and its worth booking your next Airbnb in this area.
240 yen for excellent house brew (hot or cold), 450 for most other coffees.
Great news: They've rolled out more locations across Tokyo.
Tip: The granola breakfast set with their signature drip/cold brew coffee is a great way to start the day. (They’ll let you sub hot chocolate is coffee isn’t your thing).
100% Arabica has “good coffee” written all over it and it didn’t disappoint. This light and airy coffee haven with the ubiquitous blonde wood fit out off the main drag in the historic Higashiyama area, was a mere two blocks away from where I stayed. Best of all they open at 8am. The perfect time for a caffeine hit. Though not so good for my tea-drinking companion as this place serves coffee and nothing else.
The Tokyo-born owner loves the stuff so much that he bought a coffee plantation in Hawaii. 100% Arabica has three locations in Kyoto, and a handful more sprinkled around the world.
87 Hoshinochō, Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 605-0853
Sentido: Another gift from the caffeine god, was stumbling upon this small cafe. Not only does it open at a reasonable hour but, unlike 100% Arabica, they have a small breakfast menu (and serve other beverages). From memory there were only a couple of options, toasted banana bread with the world’s tiniest but well formed cube of butter, or a small bowl of cereal with fruit and yoghurt.
The espresso was perfect and the toasted banana bread made a nice snack to go with it (thank goodness for the rice balls!)
While searching Sentido’s address I came across a blog post that mentioned the owner learned to make coffee while living in Melbourne. No wonder it was so good!
1F Nippo Karasuma Bldg, 445 Sasaya-cho, Kyoto, Japan, 604-8187
Open: 7:30am – 7:00pm Monday – Friday, 8:00am – 7:00pm Saturday (closed Sunday)
A note of Japanese addresses: the non-consecutive street numbers can be very confusing, that's because they're numbered in the order they're built. A “pocket Wi-Fi” (a phone sized mobile modem) and Google maps, will save you hours of confusion when hunting for your first fix of the day.