1-5-2 Aobadai, Daikanyama
Yep. A surfers’ café in Tokyo. Saturday NYC could have been plucked off of Sydney’s beachfront—the wooden floors, the surfboards, the laid-back vibe…it’s all here. In a city as chaotic as Tokyo, a seat on this café’s quiet patio, surrounded by greenery, with a view of the surfboards inside, feels like an oasis. The coffee beans are sourced from Ethiopia and the flat whites are some of the best in town. For the dairy-averse, the oat milk froths up well and tastes a lot like cow’s milk, actually.
Little Nap Coffee Stand
2 Chome-43-15, Shibuya
So much more than a coffee stand, Little Nap is a chic hole-in-the-wall that probably fits no more than four drinkers at any given time. The building is a New England–style clapboard, and the floor-to-ceiling glass wall means you can sit with a steaming cup of caffeine in hand and watch the world go by. Little Nap deal in both coffee and ice cream, and we recommend combining the two. Order a scoop of vanilla and a shot of espresso for a do-it-yourself affogato—the perfect combination of sweet and bitter that happens to have the effect of rocket fuel. All the beans are roasted in their own roaster nearby.
Steamer Coffee Company
Steamer’s first owner was a latte art champion. For real. It’s worth knowing that to achieve those pretty brown-and-white hot-milk swirls, the espresso needs to be well extracted and the milk perfectly steamed. Steamer’s lattes are an excellent way to wake up—creamy, hot, and a little bit sharp, served in a mug the size of a soup bowl, much as the French serve café au lait. The military latte, an East-meets-West mix of espresso, milk, and matcha, is a brew for the more adventurous. Like many spots in Tokyo, this place is perpetually slammed, but the intricate illustrations in every cup elevate the ordinary experience of drinking coffee into a novelty.
If the prospect of the most photogenic little pancakes doesn’t draw you into Sarutahiko, we don’t know what will. This café is clean and minimalist in the Scandinavian way with its rough, untreated wood, streams of light, and unadorned tables. All the beans come from the café’s own roaster, and in a city where the coffee scene is still flourishing, these guys are at the top of their game.
Tea time should be sacred, especially in Japan. That was the thinking of Tokyo Saryo’s owners as they witnessed the coffee craze sweep over their city, while traditional, domestically produced tea was relegated to the back seat. The resulting tea house is soothing in its minimalism—off-white bare walls surrounding a simple square bar where a tea master does the brewing. Every detail of the experience is painstakingly considered. The pour-over pots have copper bases, ceramic drippers, and wooden holders designed by the owners to extract the maximum flavor from the leaves. Japanese green sencha tea can handle more than one infusion, so make sure you leave adequate time to enjoy this ritual. The first cup will taste strong but sweet, while the second will taste stronger still and create a light caffeine buzz to steer you through the afternoon.
Café de l’Ambre
No cake. No Wi-Fi. Just coffee. In early twentieth-century Japan, dark, smoky coffee shops called kissetan were the norm. Café de l’Ambre is really the last of its kind in Tokyo—not much has changed since 1948, which is fine with us. Owner Sekiguchi Ichiro is a centenarian who advocated the unusual practice of aging premium coffee beans—sometimes for decades—before roasting and grinding them to serve. Ichiro discovered this deep, robust aged flavor when a shipment of his beans from Europe got derailed during the outbreak of World War II. When the coffee eventually arrived in Japan five years later, Ichiro roasted the beans anyway, and the flavor took off. Sitting at the old curved bar watching the barista—or Ichiro himself if you’re lucky—hand-drip coffee probably harvested in the ’70s through a sieve is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Images courtesy of tokyocoffee.org
All Seasons Coffee
1F 2-7-7 Shinjuku
Drinking a milky coffee at All Seasons is a lot like being in a sensory-deprivation tank: At least insofar as the walls are white, the floors are white, the furniture is wooden, and there is next to no decoration. Before you start thinking it’s austere, it’s not; the minimalist look of the place is chic as can be. Founders Jun and Emi Saito met while one was selling dried fruit and the other was making furniture in the same building. They were always on the hunt for a good cup of coffee and eventually thought: Let’s just do it ourselves. Stop in for a delicious caffeine buzz and a bit of breakfast if you’re hungry—the crepes and egg dishes are especially good. All Seasons is not a café where the seats are filled with people feverishly typing on laptops; it’s more of a conversational, let’s-catch-up kind of place.