For coffee lovers, a city of Tokyo worth a visit

For a country widely known for its many varieties of tea, Japan’s appetite has slowly shifted towards coffee. In recent years, possibly due to Japan’s ever-growing interest in Western trends and fashions, the country’s coffee imports and sales have steadily increased since its introduction around 1877.

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In Japan, a “cafe” is a euphemism to describe the services offered. In fact, unlike most Western cafes that only serve sandwiches, Danish pastries, and donuts, Japanese cafes can have lunch deals, including Italian pasta dishes, salads, and donburi. It comes as an unexpected change, I came to Japan waiting for a coffee, but rather had restaurant type services.

The costs of a “Cup of Joe”

It is a common myth that Japan is an expensive country. The truth is, there are plenty of cheap and convenient dining options available to tourists if they know where to look. On top of that, unlike in the West, “tipping” is not a custom in Japan as the service is supposed to be of a particular standard for each customer. Despite this, the price of coffee remains strangely high. I find that confusing.

In Japan, it is possible to eat a decent hot meal for a price ranging from 600 to 1000 ($ 5.50 to $ 9.50), but the price of coffee may be slightly lower than this lowest food price. There were times when I spent more on coffee than on my lunch! Prices can vary depending on where you go, but keep in mind that most cafes usually don’t include tax on their price. The cheapest option can be found on almost every street corner at one of the many vending machines across Japan. The coffee in these machines can be served hot and typically costs between 120 and 200 ($ 1.15 to $ 1.90). It goes without saying that coffee from the vending machine isn’t the best thing since sliced ​​bread, but works for a quick fix. Most, if not all, convenience stores also sell coffee, either premixed or you can mix yourself after buying a cup at the counter. These are usually between 100 and 300 ($ 1.25 to $ 2.85). These convenience store coffee varieties come in a lot more flavors than coffee from vending machines – one of my favorites is Iced Caramel Latte. At chain stores, such as Starbucks, Tully’s Coffee, Doutor, and Pronto, you can expect to pay anywhere from 250 to 400 ($ 2.35 to $ 3.75) for the smallest size available. Then at other cafes you can expect to pay from Â¥ 500 + ($ 4.70)! Part of that cost is due to the fact that coffees often roast their own coffee beans and import from overseas, while chains generally subscribe to more common blends. That being said, Japan is one of the few countries to add specialties to their chain store menus. In february 2018, Starbucks released its selection of sakura flavors (like sakura lattes) and cup designs to celebrate Japan’s famous rose petals. In addition, Japan also has other unique flavor combinations, such as Matcha lattes, a chocolate brownie Matcha Creme Frappuccino ”, and various flavors of tiramisu.

Tokyo coffee city

Kiyosumi-Shirakawa, located west of Tokyo, is Japan’s self-proclaimed coffee town. I visited four unique cafes, each reinforcing this notion. What made these coffees stand out was their absolute respect for flavor, thus serving the coffee without milk or sugar.

ARISE ROASTERS (1-13-8, Hirano, Kōtō-ku) is one such store, where I enjoyed one of the recommended beans: an Ethiopian blend that had subtle fruity undertones (¥ 400). The cafe itself is rather small and can only accommodate a few customers at a time, although the skateboards hanging on the wall certainly give a relaxed atmosphere.

The second cafe, Artichaut Chocolat (4-9-6, Miyoshi, Kōtō-ku), was another change of pace from the usual Tokyo cafes. The shop had a simple artistic style with a glassed-in view to watch the master chocolatiers at work. This shop, which also served as a chocolatier and café, allowed customers to enjoy chocolate-inspired coffee and perhaps have a little treat on the side. The chocolate drinks they serve could have a touch of ginger and cinnamon to give the chocolate a refreshing spice (¥ 650)!

Cream of the Crop Coffee (4-5-4, Shirakawa, Kōtō-ku) was my next destination. This cafe had the appearance of a minimalist warehouse, filled with only the most modern equipment to produce the best coffee. Here I sampled an iced coffee which, although bitter, was silky (¥ 450).

My last stop was at a relatively unknown store called Rikashitsu Jyoryuujyo (1-13-12, Hirano, Kōtō-ku) which stood out from the others by the complexity of its equipment displayed in the window. As this store does not appear on Google, it was luck and interest that prompted me to explore it further. The filtration system was set up as a science experiment, with spiral tubes and conical flasks to hold the coffee. Speaking to the owner, I discovered that it takes at least 8 hours for the coffee to filter through his machine. This meant it was the best possible flavor extraction, which I could attest to when tasting the coffee (400).

This self-proclaimed coffee town will almost certainly entertain coffee lovers for hours on end and is definitely a place I will return to in the future.

Olivier Trapnell is an exchange student at Waseda University and a freelance journalist based in Tokyo, Japan. He is originally from Berkshire in the UK.

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