There arrives a point during traveling when you cease to be a tourist and begin being a local. You no longer use Google Maps to navigate the train system. You have a favorite ramen/udon/yakitori spot and you rotate between them. You know to give yourself an extra 15 minutes at Shinjuku station to figure out what the hell is going on. You know that on the weekend there will be a million people at Yoyogi Park but you go there anyways because it’s literally the best place to be in a Saturday afternoon. You walk to the neighborhood coffeeshop (you know where the best ones are) and enjoy the morning nomming and writing and transporting your mind between Japan and San Francisco.
In these caffeine-laden instances, I felt most at home in Tokyo. For those of you who track my SF adventures on Instagram, you know that I spend a LOT of time frequenting coffeeshops all over the city, always on the prowl for a warm cup of comfort, a lasting piece of conversation, and a cozy nook from which to work or read. When I’m on the road, I miss these coffeeshops a lot, and so I was delighted to learn that slowly but surely, the coffee culture, at least our SF-esque tech definition of it, is on the rise in Japan.
Whenever I needed a quick getaway from the vastness of Tokyo and revel (or relax) in the adventure, I found myself at some of these cafes that immediately reminded me of the city by the bay. I highly recommend checking them out if you are in Tokyo – even if you don’t buy into the coffeeshop hype, it is a great way to caffeinate with a cup of coffee or tea from a Japanese roaster and fuel up before you hit the Yamanote line.
Mojo Coffee (Shinjuku)
Tucked away behind a shrine in the residential part of Shinjuku, this New Zealand-based shop turned out to be the best hangover cure. With tons of natural light and a super friendly staff, I perched here for over an hour chatting with the baristas about coffee and desserts as they let me obsessively stand on chairs to photograph everything. Their desserts were things I’d find in SF – pot de crème, chocolate-dipped cookies, and banana bread. While definitely more Euro than Tokyo, I’d go back anytime.
About Life Coffee Brewers (Shibuya)
We found this place by accident as we were rushing to our Airbnb in Shibuya to drop off our stuff and head to the park. Barely a year old, the small stall has no room to sit but makes up for it with flavorful light roasts and snacks like fig bread. On the side of the walls are bike racks for cyclists to take a quick break before continuing on their route; with the bustle of Shibuya in full swing, we did the same.
Streamer Coffee (Shibuya)
There is definitely a piece of SF at this Sightglass-meets-Red Door Café. The owner is revered in Japan for his latte art, and the matcha latte had looked as good as it tasted. While I’m normally not a big donut fan, I loved the not-too-sweet military doughnut. Topped with matcha and caramel swirled into a camoflauge pattern, the only place this pastry was hiding was in my stomach.
Frangipani Cafe (Roppongi)
There is an oasis amidst the clubs and bars in Roppongi and it comes in the form of this cafe. Not only is there a real Volkswagon swag wagon situated inside (where you can sip your banana milkshake in semi-privacy), there are American oldies on the radio and knick knacks draped everywhere from rubber duckies to streamers. And if you’re like me and always in the mood for ice cream, the matcha cornet – soft serve served in a cone of freshly fried bread – is the best combination of hot and cold.