Tokyo Coffee Diary (ii)

Continuing from where I left off the last time...

[I am ashamed to say that this is almost four months late, and unfortunately my memory is fuzzy and my descriptions are not going to be as on point as they were for part (i) (here!), but I will try to recall everything as best as I can.]

6. Paddlers Coffee

So this was a chance visit. It was the kind of place on my coffee list but not on my 'die-die-must-go' list, but when my mom and I walked past it one sunny morning in Shibuya, we decided to check it out. I feel as though we spotted it by a stroke of luck; a little flag hanging off the side of a wall; a stand on the floor that said 'Paddlers Coffee'. Paddlers' is the only place outside of the USA that serves Stumptown Coffee, and having followed Stumptown's Instagram for quite a while, I was undeniably rather excited. 

Tucked in the corner on the second floor of a rather indie-looking shop (Todd Snyder, never heard of it until that day), Paddlers is tiny; unassuming even. Here, they only offer filter coffee, and you have a choice of three regions - Latin America, Africa and Indonesia - and a blend. We had the Indonesia, which came under the barista's recommendation as the "least acidic coffee" of the three. 

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As it was my first time having proper filter coffee, I didn't quite know what to expect. The Indonesia was pleasant; earthy and dark. The coffee had a light mouthfeel, and I wondered if it was too diluted. That aside, it was quite refreshing. I felt a little bad though, as they didn't have any milk on them and my mom doesn't like her coffee black! We later found that they had recently opened a new branch that serves espresso in Nishihara, so if that's more your style, you can head there instead. 

Paddlers' Coffee
Todd Snyder Townhouse, 6-18-14, Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku
Nearest Station: Shibuya Station/Harajuku Station
Open 11am-7pm daily

2-26-5 Nishihara, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Yoyogi-Uehara
Open 7:30am-6pm daily

7. Turret Coffee

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When you're googling the 'best coffee in Tokyo', a few big names come up. Omotesando Koffee. Bear Pond. Streamer. The list goes on. But of all the lists I've seen, Turret hardly makes an appearance on any, which I feel is completely unjustified, because Turret definitely ranks near the top of my list. Turret actually uses the same beans as that of Streamer's and the person who opened it used to work under Hiroshi Sawada at Streamer. However, I found that I enjoyed the coffee at Turret's a lot more than the one at Lattest -  maybe I should have gone to the original Streamer outlet instead. Anyway, this just shows the importance of the many variables involved in the making of coffee, and how the same beans can produce rather different cups of coffees. 

Turret's coffee had a wonderful balance of flavours, and the milk really allowed the dark notes of the coffee to shine instead of overpowering them. The coffee was not acidic in the least, which I liked very much. I highly recommend a trip to this place, especially after a trip to the Tsukiji fish market which is a 5-10 minute walk away! Oh, and did you know that turrets are actually the names of the trucks that deliver goods to and from the Tsukiji fish market? 

Turret Coffee

2-12-6 Tsukiji Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Tsukiji-Shio/Hibiya
Opening Hours: 
Mon-Sat 7am-6pm
Sun 12-6pm

8. About Life Coffee Brewers

I only just realised, but I'm not sure if the guy was posing for my camera. Anyway, I'm kind of upset that I didn't take any good pictures of this lovely little coffee stand in Shibuya, because it's so (instagrammable) adorable. This is pretty much a takeaway joint, and there are no seats save for a tiny bench outside the kiosk itself. My mom and I opted to drink our coffee on-the-go, which is not a very Tokyolite thing to do, but we did it anyway. 

The people here really seem to know their shit about coffee. I didn't get a chance to talk to them but I read a little article about them in Drift (volume 2), a wonderful publication about coffee and I was really quite impressed. What further impressed me, however, was my latte. I was initially a bit skeptical about their coffee as I had read somewhere that this was one of the few places in Tokyo that used a light roast for the beans. But what About Life did was show me that light roasts can be done, and when done right, they are a truly work of art. 

About Life Coffee Brewers
1-19-8 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Shibuya
Open daily 8:30am-8:30pm  

9. Omotesando Koffee [CLOSED] 

[edit (26/1/2016):  I just did a random google search and discovered that Omotesando has closed! My heart just broke into a million pieces. Toranomon Koffee is, thankfully, still up and running - but I will miss this quaint hideout very much.] 

The place is a little shed tucked away in a quiet street away from the busy streets of Shibuya and Harajuku. It feels like an entirely different world once you turn into the side streets, and when you step into Omotesando Koffee, you'd wonder if you are really in the city at all. Most of the seats are found in the garden, and the whole place exudes incredibly homely vibes. I would think "quaint" is the best word to describe this place. 

I was highly impressed by the fact that they had an automatic (??) tamper. And it's pretty genius, I don't know why most places don't seem to use one but it's such a good idea. It would really make all the coffees a lot more consistent. Consistent tamping probably wouldn't be much of a problem for such experienced baristas though, but it's the little things that count, right? 

The coffee was smooth, nothing mind-blowing, but good, and safe. The baked custard cube complemented the coffee rather well. It's something like a canele, and the crunchy, caramelised edges were divine. (P.s. do forgive my ugly thumbnail in the picture above.)

 Omotesando Koffee
4-15-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Omotesando
Open daily 10am-7pm

10. Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee is where I had one of my first experiences with specialty coffee. It was during a trip to San Fran in 2013. Unfortunately, I don't think I truly appreciated what I was drinking back then. All I remember thinking was that they had a really nice logo and that the queue was very long. I was very excited to hear that they had expanded to Asia, though, and to Tokyo at that! 

Their Tokyo outpost is huge. It's actually located on the second floor of a building, on top of a shop called Zucca - so don't get confused while you're looking at google maps. The design of the place is minimalistic, while the wood flooring gives it  a rustic feel, coupled with the greenery at the patio. They even have a whole section selling merchandise! 

Of course, I had to have a gibraltar as Blue Bottle is supposedly the place that invented it! A gibraltar is basically the in-between of a macchiato and a latte, somewhat similar to a piccolo. I distinctly remember that the coffee here was a lot sharper and brighter compared to most of the coffees I've had on the trip, and it had a fantastic mouthfeel. And just look at that latte art. The milk was done beautifully. 

My only regret was leaving this to the last day, because the brunch menu looked awesome and I would have loved to try their beignets but I was too stuffed from a morning of eating. But I'll make it back, I promise. Or to the SF branch. Somewhere, someday, somehow. 

Blue Bottle Coffee
3-13-14 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku
Tokyo 107-0062
Nearest Station: Omotesando
Open daily from 10am-9pm 

 

Tokyo Coffee Diary (i)

The tea culture in Japan is a strong one - it has been rooted in tradition ever since introduced from China in the 18th century. However, it seems as though the coffee culture has been catching up in recent years. Of course, recent trends can't keep up with centuries of history and tradition - the true test of a fad is its' staying power - but given coffee's track record, I think this one might be here to stay. 

In Tokyo, you'll find that few cafes that claim to be "specialty coffee houses" exist, and the few that do carry out what they do with great finesse, both in the coffee and brunch department. More prevalent are the true specialty coffee houses, the kissaten, solely dedicated to the art and science of brewing. Purists stick to traditional drip coffees and the occasional filter brews; while the progressive ones (largely inspired by the West) go for espressos. What remains consistent is the quality and dedication to the bean - their focus does not shift. This commitment to a singular pursuit is quintessentially Japanese; and is something I greatly respect and admire. The Japanese are true craftsmen indeed.

The preferred roast in Tokyo is a dark one, based on observation and the numerous websites I've scoured through for reviews and other 'best coffee guides'. I've found that darker roasts provide a larger room for error when it comes to the actual brewing of the coffee, resulting in consistent coffees all around. My mom and I both enjoy the simplicity and the sweetness of a dark-roasted coffee, and around Tokyo we went, hunting around for some of the best coffees in Tokyo. Thankfully, good coffee spots in Tokyo are not few and far between. 

1. Bear Pond Espresso

I hate that I have to reuse photos, but I consider myself lucky to even have a shot of this dirty espresso (how punny). This coffee stood out due to how unique it was, both in terms of taste and texture. Even the experience itself was quite unlike any other. Bear Pond is the result of years of development and experimentation from its' humble beginnings in New York eighteen years ago - I would think that all of it has paid off. So let go of your pride as you step in; and as you take your first sip of your coffee you will begin to understand, and maybe, just maybe, it justifies the air of arrogance and superiority that pervades this little cafe. 

Full review here.

Bear Pond Espresso
2-Chome-36-12, Kitazawa, Setagaya, Tokyo 155-0031
Nearest station: Shimokitazawa (take the North exit)
Open Wed-Mon

2. Lattest Omotesando

Beautiful and intricate latte art is probably a given at each and every one of Hiroshi Sawada's cafes. After all, he is the first Asian to win the world latte art championships back in 2008. Visiting at least one of his cafes was another must for me when I was in Tokyo, as I have actually had the privilege of meeting Hiroshi himself when he was in Singapore for the Cafe Asia exhibition. I even did an interview with him which you can read here

Unfortunately, Hiroshi wasn't there when I visited, but I still spent a lovely afternoon hiding from the rain in the warmly-lit Lattest. It's very cosy. I sat at the high table in the middle of the room, where a bunch of magazines were located. If only they were in English. Instead, I continued my book (PoDG) and sipped on my cappuccino. It tasted somewhat like Liberty's speakeasy blend, albeit slightly burnt. The amount of milk in that large cup couldn't quite hide it. It wasn't a bad cup, though it certainly paled in comparison to the cuppa Hiroshi made for me when he was in Singapore. On another note, the service staff there are cute. 

Lattest Omotesando 
3-5-2 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-0001
Nearest Station: Omotesando 
Mon-Fri:
10:00–19:00
Sat-Sun:
12:00–19:00

3. Little Nap Coffee Stand

I made my way there on another rainy morning, taking a wrong turn out of the subway station. If only I had known to simply follow the train tracks. Anyway, Little Nap is absolutely adorable. It's a tiny shopspace filled with knickknacks that can accommodate 10 people, maximum. It was empty when I arrived, so I took a window seat and people-watched and journalled. It's also situated right across Yoyogi Park, so I got a lovely glimpse of greenery, too. Such a tranquil and dreamy space. 

Accompanying me that morning was a cappuccino. It made me feel all warm and toasty inside, and it felt much like reconnecting with an old friend. I also received a wonderful caffeine kick, which is always a good thing. 

Throughout the morning, a steady stream of regulars came for their coffee despite the rain and it was lovely to watch them interact with the barista. I entertained a little daydream about being one such regular someday. Tokyo Summer School, maybe? 

Little Nap Coffee Stand
5-64-4 Yoyogi, Shibuya-Ku 
Nearest Station: Yoyogi-Koen 
Open Tues-Sun, 9am-7pm
 

4. Fuglen Tokyo 

Decorated just like a living room, Fuglen Tokyo is a cozy space with a rustic interior and coffee to boot. Bonus: all the furniture pieces are for sale!  I visited on a rainy Thursday afternoon with a friend that I am really thankful to have crossed paths with. Friendships like these really remind me of how life and things have a way of working out - sometimes you lose, but you never know cause you might have gained something (better) instead. 

I had a cortado, and what I liked best about it was that you could customise the amount of milk to your liking! So the barista would pull the shot (I had a single shot) and steam the milk, and pour the milk into the cup until you tell him/her to stop. The coffee here is by far the lightest one I've had on the trip; but I hear that light roasts are typically Scandinavian, which is where they come from. On hindsight, I think I should have added a bit more milk to balance out the acidity of the coffee, which turned out to be quite overpowering. Fuglen also serves up a pretty decent smoked salmon sandwich from their small menu of food offerings, so do go for that if you're after a light bite (really, this is very light - it's quite tiny). 

There's just something so wonderfully intimate and unpretentious about Fuglen that makes you want to stay there with a good book or your laptop and chill for hours. The rain seemed to accentuate this, giving the cafe a warm and homely vibe. Good vibes, indeed. 

Fuglen Tokyo 
1-16-11 Tomigaya, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 151-0063
Nearest Station: Yoyogi-Koen 
Cafe opening hours: 
Mon-Fri: 8am-7pm
Sat-Sun: 10am-7pm
 

5. Bills Omotesando

Bills is actually from Sydney, Australia - where I was just a month before my Tokyo trip! However, I failed to make a trip to Bills when I was there, so I decided to pay a visit to the Tokyo outpost instead. Oh, the irony. Anyway, if you want to make a trip here, you better be a morning person, if only just for a day. We got here at 8:45am, and the place was more than half full. By the time it was 9:30, we could see a queue going out of the door. When we left just after 10, the queue went down the steps all the way to the floor below. 

Bills is incredibly airy, well-lit and it's one of those really pristine spaces that you can't help but spam pictures of because it's so gorgeous and minimalist. I was delighted to see that the coffee here was from Single Origin Roasters - I loved their coffee from Three Williams while I was in Sydney (read here)! 

The coffee here is pretty decent. I enjoyed my flat white - it was smooth and sweet, easy on the palate. Like a taste of Australia in Tokyo, albeit with less of a kick. Of course, one could not expect it to taste exactly the same, but it does the beans justice, at the very least. Now, Single Origin Roasters, will you please come down to Singapore soon? 

Bills Omotesando 
4-30-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku, 7F Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku 
Nearest Station: Meiji-Jingumae/Harajuku Station
Open daily 830am-11pm

That's all for part one, part two's coming up soon! :-)