Flying red-eye into Tokyo is not much fun, especially when you arrive groggy, water-retained and not able to check into your hotel just yet. Such was my predicament last Sunday morning; I figured there was perhaps one thing that could solve all these problems for me.
There were two coffee places I was adamant on checking out. In a city where the coffee scene is dominated by domestic and international coffee chains, Streamer Coffee Company and Omotesando Koffee are a welcomed breed of specialty coffee shops that has taken Tokyo by storm.
Armed with the map provided on Streamer’s website, my hunt began at Shibuya Station, one of Tokyo’s busiest railway and subway stations, just on the corner from the frenetic Shibuya scramble crossing made famous by the movie Lost in Translation. Shibuya Station is a labyrinth of hallways and exits mostly leading into windowless Japanese department stores designed to ensnare unsuspecting commuters within floors and floors of shops. When you finally do manage to see daylight, make sure you get yourself to the side of Shibuya Station that is away from Hachiko, an icon of Shibuya well loved in memory of the loyal dog.
Following the map to a T, it wasn’t long before I found myself taking a right just past Metro Plaza. Then I did a double take when I saw what I saw.
At one corner of the intersection opposite Mitake Park was No. 8 Bear Pond, the branch shop of the much-revered Bear Pond Espresso in Shimokitazawa! Whoopee! How fortuitous indeed.
No. 8 sits at the front of On the Corner, a New York style deli with a large semi-open kitchen, exposed ducting on the ceiling, warm wood furniture and dark leather upholstered booth seating. The coffee shop itself is an espresso counter with limited sitting at a communal high table and a wall counter, serving Bear Pond’s famous Flower Child Blend espresso-based drinks and a single origin coffee.
I decided on a Guatamalan single origin French press, which hinted of floral notes and bright fruit, thinking I’d save my virgin experience of Bear Pond’s espresso for one pulled by barista-owner Katsu Tanaka when I visit his main shop this weekend.
Alas the shop has a strictly no photography rule (I wished I had a sly Necono kitty cam with me).
Streamer Coffee Company, run by latte art champion Hiroshi Sawada and Takehiro Kato, is located in a serene residential area of Shibuya, just another 5 minutes’ stroll from No. 8. The shop is Japanese minimalist in design, with industrial elements introduced through screed walls and floor, and exposed ducting and electrical conduits, softened with the use of oak tables and tan leather settees. Set deep in the longish café is the spacious espresso bar housing two espresso machines, two grinders and two good baristas. Near the bar, there is a small rack of Streamer and Espresso Parts co-branded merchandise such as tampers, tee shirts and bottles. My request to take close-ups of the bar area was politely declined.
I ordered a latte. Streamer’s style is maverick. Their latte is prepared with a triple-ristretto shot, which is an equivalent of three shots of ground coffee packed into a large basket and pulled for 45-50 seconds to produce a slow drip of decadent dark chocolate espresso of less than 2 shots’ volume. The beans for my cup were a blend of 2 Brazilian varietals – one was Santos, the other I didn’t catch.
The art on my pour was gorgeous. The coffee was very buttery and tasted of intense hazelnut and cocoa. The mouth feel was luscious, smooth and creamy. Drinking the foam off, the surface of the coffee was glistening with oil globules from the dark roast. It was an amazingly delicious and potent drink, and I felt the strength of the concentrated shot readily. I haven’t had such a big coffee in a long while.
Streamer also serves a small selection of cakes and cookies to accompany their coffee.
My next stop was to be Omotesando Koffee. From Streamer, continue to the end of the road and take a left past the British School. At the intersection where Shibuya High School is, turn right (not left!) onto Cat Street.
Cat Street is a half-mile long fashion haven that links Shibuya and Harajuku, two of Tokyo’s most vibrant youth culture districts. Flanked by trendy boutiques, design shops and hip cafes, the street is a popular hang-out for Tokyo’s cool youths, and for visitors, a fascinating stroll through the city’s street fashion culture.
Cat Street leads onto Omotesando-dori, Tokyo’s high fashion avenue, affectionately referred to as “Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées”. At the end of Cat Street, you will see Bvlgari on the right. Cross the overhead bridge and continue your journey right. Along the way, if you weren’t able to summon every ounce of your willpower to fend off temptation as I did, then I recommend you stop by Omotesando Hills, a stunning mall designed by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando.
Further up between Michael Kors and United Colours of Benetton lies a quiet alley where you can find Motoya Espresso Express, a mobile coffee kiosk charmingly out-of-place, serving espresso based drinks, cakes and snacks. Stools are placed at a cosy corner a few metres away from the souped-up van, where Motoya’s laidback clientele sit enjoying a cup of joe in quiet conversation.
Following directions very closely to Omotesando Koffee (OK on the map above), I soon found myself in front of a quaint and rustic Edo-era wooden house on a somewhat nondescript side road. A discreet signage and people milling in and out of the house were the only tell-tale signs that this was something out of the ordinary. Entering the house, there is a small and tranquil courtyard where a few guests sat sipping their coffee.
Within the traditional Japanese room in the small house, a stylish square black steel frame stands singly and solemnly. A sanctuary within a sanctuary, the encasement creates a space pure and sacrosanct, allowing the craftsman to perfect his craft therein while customers place their orders and observe in quiet respect.
Owner/barista Eichii Kunitomo opened this concept shop in January 2011 as a pop-up store. As I watched him prepare each drink with elegant and precise articulation, it was telling that Kunitomo-san is single-minded about creating the best he can offer his guests. The shop, mainly the steel frame structure, will relocate in early 2012 as the Japanese house is, sadly, slated to be demolished next year.
Kunitomo-san recommended that I try his macchiato. When I whipped out my camera, Kunitomo-san decided to etch a smiley for me. The beans are from Ogawa Coffee in Kyoto, a blend of El Salvador, Brazil, Ethiopia and Sumatra, dark roasted to give a robust, earthy, full-bodied palate of medium acidity. His interpretation of a macchiato was closer to a piccolo latte, more foam that I am used to for a mac…scrumptious nonetheless.
Also available at Omotesando Koffee are koffee kashi (sweets), dainty cubes of cannalés that Kunitomo-san bakes on-premise in a tiny oven. They must have been very good as they were sold out on the day I visited.
This was such an enjoyable excursion that I think I might just have to do it all over again next weekend!
February 23, 2012 Update:
Originally slated to move out from its current spot in February 2012, Omotesando Koffee has extended its tenure at the wooden house for another 2-3 years!No. 8 Bear Pond 1-17-1 Shibuya Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0002 Japan http://www.bear-pond.com/no8/ Streamer Coffee Company 1-20-28 Shibuya Shibuya-ku Tokyo 150-0002 Japan http://streamercoffee.com/ Motoya Espresso Express Various locations around Tokyo http://www.motoya-exp.com/ Omotesando Koffee 4-15-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo http://ooo-koffee.com/ Written by Jack.D Photography by Jack.D