There’s nothing like a good cup of coffee. While most people probably think of tea when they think of Japan (and with good reason), coffee has also become very popular and coffee shops have sprung up in every major city (and most rural towns too). Luckily for those of us who savor the rich flavor and aroma of coffee (and can’t see ourselves without it), a delicious cuppa is easy to find in Japan, even outside of Tokyo.
A Quick History of Coffee in Japan.
Coffee is relatively new to Japan (when you consider how ancient Japanese culture is) and it wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that coffee really took off. Coffee was introduced to Japan by the Dutch in the late 19th century, and initially the Japanese did not take a liking to the bitter brew. Now however, Japan is the third largest importer of coffee in the world. So why the switch? Well, like most of us, the Japanese not only realized the energy-giving benefits of coffee, but developed an affinity for the taste.
Finding Coffee Outside of Tokyo.
While Tokyo has virtually endless coffee shops and even its own coffee culture in places like trendy Harajuku and artsy Shimokitazawa, you can also find an amazing cup of coffee in other parts of Japan (which is great news, especially if you plan to visit cities outside of Tokyo). Here are the best coffee shops outside of Tokyo, grouped by city:
Manu Coffee – An eclectic and unassuming coffee shop that serves some of the best espresso in Japan (and they do delicious latte and chai as well). Baristas are friendly and do great latte art. As a bonus, the shops are seldom crowded. Three locations in: Daimyo, Haruyoshi and Maizuru.
Bluebird Coffee – Very comfortable little coffee shop with a relaxed atmosphere and a friendly owner who is passionate about making a medium-bodied (and amazing) brew; also serves snacks, desserts and chai. Located near Miyajimaguchi Station.
Miyajima Coffee – Well-known for smooth flavor, delicious lattes and iced coffees served in a contemporary but unpretentious setting; also serves snacks and desserts. Located on the island of Miyajima, between the floating temple and the ferry.
Nishimura Coffee – This elegant coffee shop has been a fixture in Kobe since 1948. Known for their black coffee, cappuccino, coffee jelly (yes, jelly) and exquisite desserts; also serves light meals. Truly a Japanese-style coffee shop (and not surprisingly, they take cash only). Three locations in: Kitanozaka (closest station is Sannomiya), Kobe Harborland, and Motomachi (close to Motomachi Station). There is now also a location in the Umeda area of Osaka.
Vermillion Espresso Bar & Cafe – This popular spot is probably the best coffee shop in Kyoto (and many say the best coffee in Japan). Baristas are perfectionists in both brew and presentation. Vermillion is well-known for its chocolatey lattes and beautiful latte art, served in a trendy but comfortable setting; also serves desserts and snacks. Located near Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Mitts Coffee Stand – Casual spot for some good coffee. Mitts serves espresso and expertly crafted paper drip brews (and I absolutely love their iced coffee); also serves snacks and desserts. The closest station is Fushimi.
Easy Life Cafe – This fun little cafe serves tasty coffee (and vegan food!) in a small but welcoming shop. The barista (and owner) is delightful and does great latte art. Their no-frills black coffee is smooth and has a pleasing, slightly nutty flavor. They also serve breakfast. Closest station is Kozunomori.
Mahou Coffee – Probably the best coffee on Okinawa. Serves hand drip and espresso in a comfortable setting with an eclectic vibe (think Japanese hipster); also serves desserts. Located in Tsuboya, one block south of Kamihara Odori (street).
Granknot Coffee – Best coffee in Osaka in my opinion. I love the modern and slightly refined decor, and the inviting atmosphere makes you want to stay a while. Granknot serves espresso and drip-style coffee, and the food is fantastic (try a panini!). The desserts are also to die for, so this place is a must-try. Located close to Nishi-Ohashi Station.
Lilo Coffee Roasters – Small but cozy shop serving carefully brewed (and very smooth) medium roast coffee. The owner is very friendly and will show you his brewing process, adding a nice local touch to the experience. Located near Shinsaibashi Station, to the west.
Takamura Wine & Coffee Roasters – If the name itself isn’t inviting enough, this popular cafe also has excellent coffee. The trendy ambience has a chill vibe, and the shop is (very) spacious by Japanese standards. Takamura is well-known for its wide variety of coffee (and, like the name implies, its diverse wine selection (with 2,200 brands!), including many hard-to-find-in-Japan brands). The shop also has really cool brewing equipment on display, serves snacks and sells spirits (including whiskey, beer and sake), making this place a must-see. The easiest route to Takamura is from Higobashi Station.
And there you have it. Japan has officially mastered the art of coffee (and has a long list of great coffee shops to prove it). So if you plan to travel outside of Tokyo, give one (or all) of these brewhouses a try. They’re known for consistently delicious coffee and great service. And while Japan has traditionally been associated with some of the best tea in the world, its coffee isn’t far behind.
For more great places to enjoy Japanese coffee and culture, check out Japan’s Animal Cafes: Where Cats and Coffee Come Together