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06/23/2014

Hip Cafés and Koffee

Being that Japan has such a strong tea culture, coming here, I was slightly worried that it would be hard to find good coffee.  With the abundance of good coffee and some of the best coffee cafés in the world in New York City and surrounding area, I’ve always been a little spoiled when it comes to coffee, forming me into the not-so-a-typical “coffee snob.” 

            During the first month or so in Japan, I thought I was doomed.  All I found were corporate bulldozers and their sugary coffee creations: Starbucks, Doutor, etc.  This is not the coffee I aimed to drink.  However, after exploring some of the hipper and upcoming areas of Tokyo, I found more and more cool cafés.  Finding these cafés, though, is not always easy. 

            The best area in Tokyo for coffee and café culture is surely the Omote-Sando/Aoyama area.  It’s filled with young Japanese people interested in new and upcoming trends.  The first café I bumped into accidently was called Streamers, and I happened upon it with a friend when we were lost searching for another store.  Located on the back roads of Omote-Sando, this extremely “hipster” café immediately lured us in.  Inside, a large wood table extending through most of the shop offers a relaxed environment, only helped by the comfortable armchairs and couches.  Much of the décor was camouflage print, a major trend right now in Tokyo.  Both the employees and customers exhibited a sense of “hip” and youth that was very refreshing. 

            Upon stepping up to the counter, there were some small treats, including a camouflage donut, flavored with their signature mixture of caramel, matcha (green tea) and chocolate.  There was only one left, so my friend and I had to split that.  The menu was a decent size, with offerings of seasonal drinks and the regular drinks you can find at any good café.  I decided to order my favorite drink, a Gibraltar or Cortado, as this was the way I could truly test how good their coffee was. 

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            It was amazing.  For the first time in Japan, I was completely satisfied with my coffee.  The donut too was delectable, with a surprise chocolate ganache filling.  I’ve gone back many times to do work or hang out, seeing many of the regulars there in this hidden café.

            Omote-Sando must hide their coffee shops, as another hidden shop even further in the back streets of Omote-Sando was shown to me by a friend.  Located in a traditional Japanese style house, Omote-Sando Koffee is the ultimate hipster location for coffee.  A warning though, it may take a while to find, as it is in a residential area with no real landmarks around to distinguish it. 

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            This coffee shop is not a café, but rather a place to simply enjoy an amazing cup of coffee, not a place to sit around and talk or do work.  Outside is small garden featuring maybe four or five small seats, and inside is only the coffee bar where one orders.  It is extremely minimalist: only one man working as the barista, cashier, and everything else, I question as to how he does it.  Behind the bar is the espresso maker, blender, coffee grinder, and ingredients.  The inside has only a bonsai and a few other traditional Japanese decorations, accented by the tatami flooring, dim lighting, and wood-beamed ceilings.  The menu is simple, as you can order anything hot or iced.  The only thing “to stay” is the espresso shot, while everything else comes in a to-go cup. 

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            I decided to order the most popular drink the first time I went: an Iced Cappuccino.  To make it, the barista puts one or two ice cubes, milk, and espresso in a blender, making it frothy and especially creamy.  He pours it in a cup and tops it with cinnamon.  A perfectly sized straw is given, but no lids are available.  I also bought their Kashi, which is the only food offered, and is basically a cubical version of a French Cannale.  I was completely blown away by everything.  It was some of the best coffee I’ve put in my mouth. 

            I’ve returned to this coffee haven many times, trying some more off their menu, including their iced Mochaccino, regular coffee, and their special Bailey’s cappuccino.  I also purchased their coffee beans so I could brew their coffee at home. 

            The next place I stumbled upon was place less hidden away.  An import from France, a café called Coutume in Aoyama immediately lured my friend and I in when we saw the hipster baristas.  When I walked in, the décor was fresh and modern, but was place I’d want to stay a while; it was comfortable.  But the thing I was most blown away by was the Steam-Punk Machine.  A brand new, innovative machine utilizing steam to brew coffee, the Steam-Punk has been something I’ve been craving to try for months, but since I found out about it just days before coming to Japan, I haven’t been able to.  They also had a traditional water drip coffee maker in the corner, slowly brewing some delicious looking coffee.  But I knew this was the perfect opportunity to try the Steam-Punk coffee.

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            The first sip.  Different.  I was not sure what to think. Yet as kept drinking the coffee, I became obsessed.  The Steam-Punk really exhibits all the flavors of the coffee, creating a cup of coffee more exquisite than I’ve ever had before.  I crave this coffee almost everyday.  I’ve yet to try the different food offerings, but they all look delicious, and I will go back soon to do so.   Another plus: this is one of the only cafés in Tokyo with available wi-fi, and you don't even have to sign up first!

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            Café and coffee culture in Japan can be bland if that’s what you make it.  But with a little exploring, you can find amazing places unique to Japan that really make a difference.  Maybe someday, I can have a café of my own in Japan

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