Tokyo is a coffee lover’s paradise! With its abundance of coffee shops, it can be hard to decide which one is the best. We’ve done the research, and we’ve come up with our pick for the best coffee shops in Tokyo.
Whether you’re looking for a cosy cafe, a bustling espresso bar, or just a place to grab a quick cup of joe, we’ve got you covered. From the traditional to the trendy, we’ve rounded up all the best cafes in Tokyo so you can enjoy the perfect cup of coffee. So grab a cup and get ready to explore the wonder of Tokyo’s coffee scene!
Pro-Tip: We advise you to visit any of these cafés during the week if you don’t like queueing or too many people!
The Old School – Café de L’Ambre
Kissaten (Kee-SAH-ten) literally means ‘tea-drinking shop’, but this is where you go for real Japanese-style coffee.
When I think of the word kissaten I imagine; dark, smooth wood, moody amber lighting that penetrates everything, jazz music playing softly, and old Japanese men smoking* while reading the newspaper. The ultimate kissaten is Café De L’Ambre.
A pioneer of Japanese coffee culture, Café De L’ambre was established in 1948 by Sekiguchi Ichiro. Sekiguchi was known as the “Japanese Godfather of coffee”. Who sadly passed away in recent years.
However, the one-hundred-and-three-year-old’s legacy lives on. An engineer by trade, he invented (and patented) a superior kettle for hand-drip coffee. Aside from his kettle, Café De L’ambre still uses his customs: the grinder and the internal mechanics of the roaster. You can tell how much tradition matters in a kissaten like Café De L’ambre. They even pour strictly. The cloth filters filled with coffee are moved in a circle while the kettle with the water is kept in a fixed position – contrary to how modern cafés do it.
Not only do you feel the craftsman’s personal touch in the coffee-making technique, but in the pleasure of drinking. Coffee is served in very thin ceramic cups which Sekiguchi believed felt better against your lips.
When entering, be sure to savour a peek into the front office where the roasted beans are kept. Behind the scenes, raw coffee beans are stored for decades in a room built to Sekihuchi’s specifications.
Now it’s time to be transported back in time by the interior and traditions. And for a rather intimate experience – it’s a tight squeeze. Nowhere does one sit closer together at the bar than at Café de L’Ambre.
*As someone who revels in pretending they’re back in a bygone era, it was to my dismay smoking was banned recently in the café, however, for many, this is great news.
The Cosy One – Fuglen
Known to many as the coffee shop in Shibuya, Fuglen is the perfect location to escape the hustle and bustle of the Scramble.
Fuglen (‘bird’ in Norwegian) hails from Oslo, Norway. The first café opened in 1963 and has been offering quintessential Nordic coffee and atmosphere ever since.
Norwegian Barista Champion Einer K Holthe bought it for around 15 pence. Over the years, he’s collected the ultimate squad needed to complete his vision:
Peppe Trulsen, with an eye for the most stylish handmade vintage furniture;
Halvor Digernes, cocktail enthusiast;
Kojima Kenji, the captain of the first Tokyo shop.
The first Tokyo shop, established in 2012, is nestled behind Shibuya Scramble in Tomigaya. What’s funny is, Tokyoites initially didn’t get Fuglen – its coffee was too fruity and acidic. They were used to dark-roasted blends. Not being used to this, even Kojima didn’t like it the first time he tried!
Thankfully, the locals grew curious about this foreign oddity in the middle of their city. The popular Japanese men’s magazine Brutus drew attention to the unique little café. Tokyo dwellers flocked to the place because the coffee was made by the novel AeroPress. Now, there are 3 branches in Tokyo – the others in Asakusa and near Hanegi Park. The latter is just gorgeous during plum blossom season (February-March).
I can’t deny that Fuglen is a hipster café, but it’s not gimmicky. Its retro Scandinavian interior feels purposeful and authentic. TripAdvisor’s reviewers advise they only do ‘real’ coffee – implying, to me at least, no seasonal frappés and lattes. Just classic and minimalist espresso pulled on a Slayer espresso machine. Prefer filter coffee? You can choose how it’s made – a hand drip AeroPress; or batch-brew.
Remember Trulsen, who curated the furniture, from the 1950s and 60s, for the café? Well, if you like something you see, and have enough room in your suitcase, feel free to take a little piece of Fuglen back home with you. Everything you see – chairs, tables, lamps, plates, glasses and knick-knacks – is for sale.
And don’t forget Digernes, and his passion for cocktails. Fuglen prides itself on being a bar, rather than a café. Depending on the branch, it’s open until 6/8 pm serving – you guessed it – cocktails. Like other travellers, you may find your first and second visit to Fuglen on the same day.
When visiting Tokyo, be sure to check their social platforms in case they have any events on. They host live jazz and food events, Christmas markets and more. If you need a moment to catch your breath while sightseeing, Tomigaya (where the first bar opened in Japan) is the hidden gem of Shibuya. Not literally off the beaten path or anything, considering you’re still in one of the most populated cities on the planet!
- Unlike many places in Tokyo, you’re able to pay by card;
- There’s free Wi-Fi;
- Your ambience will go uninterrupted – there are no calls allowed indoors (note this in case you’re looking for a place to do some remote work!)
The Instagrammable one – Haute Couture Nakameguro
When you think of planning a trip to Japan, what time of year is it? I bet you’re thinking Spring. The reason being, of course, cherry blossoms. Sakura (‘cherry blossoms’) Season is arguably the most popular time to visit. If you’ve visited in the Spring or seen pictures of the trees, I don’t have to tell you why. But I will – because it’s so special. Pink and white clouds of cherry blossoms as far as the eye can see; Hanami (literally ‘flower watching’) picnics under the falling petals; the cutest Starbucks collectables… And – the concept café!
From March-May, you’re likely to see Tokyo light up in a sea of pink – and I don’t just mean the blossoms. The cafés (and shops, for that matter), reflect the change of season. Faux sakura shrouded ceilings and candy-coloured desserts aplenty.
Potentially, the best area to flower-watch is the walk along the Nakameguro river. And potentially the best sakura-themed café (hence the most Instagrammable) is Haute Couture Nakameguro. Let me tell you why.
First – you get a front-row view of the magnificent blooms. Second – this place looks like the ultimate venue for girly birthdays and bridal showers. If you’re one for cute, you’ll be left in total awe. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t able to visit in Spring. Haute Couture dresses for every floral occasion in Japan – whether it’s majestic wisteria in August or cosy maple leaves in October.
Remember – the offering is very different from the Kissaten or the hipster café. Everything is delightfully fanciful. Be prepared for the sweetest feast of strawberry lattes and white chocolate fondue.