Restaurants & Nightlife

4 MINUTE READ

Tokyo and Kyoto’s new high-end coffee experiences

Words by Melinda Joe

10 April 2024

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Discover three new cafés taking Japan’s love of coffee to an entirely new level.

Japan's love of coffee dates back to the 17th century, when Dutch traders first brought coffee beans to Nagasaki. The lifting of Japanese trade restrictions in 1858 and the embrace of Western influences propelled the drink's popularity, leading to the emergence of kissaten cafés in the late 1800s. Frequently outfitted with dark wood and brass fixtures, these traditional coffee houses focused on serving high-quality coffee in a subdued yet sophisticated atmosphere.

The third-wave coffee boom, which began in the mid-2000s with the opening of coffee specialists such as Onibus and Switch Coffee in Tokyo, marked a shift in Japan's coffee culture toward speciality beans and artisanal approaches. Japan's baristas are now elevating coffee to new heights with omakase-style menus of rare brews served in technically astonishing preparations.

Cokuun

Hidenori Izaki is redefining the coffee experience at Cokuun, his exclusive coffee bar in Tokyo's posh Omotesando neighbourhood. The bar operates much like a private club, with reservations available exclusively online and requiring advance payment. Upon booking, the exact address is shared via text message, and confidentiality is requested. Concealed within a grey building complex, Cokuun's unmarked entrance leads to a space reminiscent of a contemporary art gallery with a Zen-like ambience. Inside, a sculptural orb resembling an iron teapot houses a four-seat counter where Izaki, a former World Barista Champion, and his team of award-winning baristas craft experimental coffee-tasting menus.

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Cokuun, Tokyo

The 90-minute sessions shine the spotlight on small-batch beans from boutique producers like Iris Farm and Janson Family Farms in Panama. Drawing from the realms of mixology, fine dining, and traditional tea ceremony, Izaki treats coffee as a versatile ingredient served in meticulously precise preparations and presented with a wealth of coffee knowledge. The menu includes cold brews and pour-overs, as well as Izaki's signature lattes and mocktails blended with seasonal Japanese fruits, original ferments, and spices.

The drinks, presented in ceramic vessels handcrafted by Japanese artisans, are complemented by bespoke desserts from the two-Michelin-starred Tokyo restaurant Narisawa. The experience will change the way you think about coffee forever.

Koffee Mameya Kakeru

Koffee Mameya Kakeru, located in the Kiyosumi-Shirakawa coffee district east of Tokyo Station, is a haven for coffee enthusiasts. Housed in a former book publishing warehouse, this sleek bean-bar-cum-café features a stone counter encased in a wooden frame beneath a double-height ceiling. Founder Eiichi Kunitomo brings elements from the worlds of cuisine and design into refined experiences centred on speciality coffee.

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Koffee Mameya Kakeru, Tokyo

The café's name, Kakeru, meaning 'to multiply,' reflects the collaborative spirit of Koffee Mameya's expert baristas, who work closely with prestigious growers like Lamastus Family Estates in Panama and Tamiru Tadesse of Sky Project Alo Yabai in Ethiopia. The main menu lists three tasting courses featuring seasonal varieties of cold brews, filter coffees, and milk brews, matched with locally made bite-sized confections like pistachio-filled chocolates and fruit-studded financiers dusted with Parmesan. You can also order individual cups of coffee made with your choice of beans, with options ranging from lightly roasted fruity styles to full-bodied dark roasts.

The innovative cocktail course, created by specialist Akira Zushi, consists of three seasonal tipples blended with silky milk-washed brews, pepper and herb-infused syrups, and flavoured foams. Kakeru regularly hosts special events; a recent collaboration with Tokyo restaurant Sushi M showcased eye-opening coffee-and-sushi pairings by Sushi M owner-sommelier Yoshinobu Kimura. Note that reservations are required for Kakeru's regular tasting sessions as well as the special events, adding an element of exclusivity and anticipation to the experience.

Blue Bottle Studio

In Kyoto, Blue Bottle Studio offers carefully curated tasting sessions for five guests at a time, operating on weekends during the spring and autumn months. Inside a refurbished machiya (traditional wooden townhouse), the minimalist interior combines wood, tatami mats, and earthen walls, creating a serene atmosphere. In crafting the Blue Bottle Studio experience, founder James Freeman considered every detail: he helped design the sand-coloured linen uniforms for the baristas and personally selected the jazz records that play in the background.

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Blue Bottle Studio, Kyoto

The coffee journey begins with a lineup of cold teas infused with various parts of the coffee plant, followed by a progression of coffees made with single-origin beans processed exclusively for Blue Bottle by producers such as Taiwan Royal Bean Geisha Estate. The drinks pair with seasonal sweets such as a refreshing pate de fruit flavoured with green apple, lime, and wasabi by Yuichi Goto of the popular Tokyo restaurant Path and pâtissier Kazuhiro Nakamura to highlight the flavours of the brews.

The view overlooking the garden delights the eye with delicate cherry blossoms in spring and fiery vermillion leaves in autumn. The session concludes with a digestif made with Blue Bottle's instant coffee accented with spiced Acou Rum from Kagoshima. This spring, Blue Bottle Studio Kyoto is open from 23rd to 6th May, with bookings available online.

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Melinda Joe

Melinda is a food and travel journalist based in Tokyo and covers both for us on Noted. Expect to discover all things Japan in her work – from countryside escapes to the sushi stands to know now.

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