Coffee has had a longstanding connection with Japan. The stimulating beverage was first introduced to Japanese in the 17th century by the Dutch. While the popularity of coffee has wildly fluctuated over the years, today, coffee is as Japanese as a good matcha tea. Japan is now one of the leading per capita coffee consumers in the world.
The first café in Japan made its debut in Tokyo in 1888 under the name Kahiichakan. The proprietor was Tei Ei-kei, a young, affluent and well-heeled Japanese “occidentophile” who studied at Yale and spoke four languages fluently. Like the cafés of many countries, coffee spots in Japan often served to stimulate in more ways than one. These places were often laden with heavy political discussions or full of young radicals, business magnates and politicians who would meet for a coffee, cigarette, conspiracy and perhaps a side of “secret handshake deal.”
To drink coffee in a place with great historic architecture (it’s technically a museum) and great modern food, check out Café 1894, located just above the Ginza District. Café de l’Ambre is a great reflection of the coffee and atmosphere of yesteryear. It’s located in a fairly obscure side street tucked away in lower Ginza. The feel of the shop takes you back almost a full century and the coffee machinery and techniques used (strained coffee) will take you almost as far back as well. Even more unique is they experiment with aging their coffee beans – some of the beans here are over 80 years old!
As with any international city, you’ll find all your favourite global coffee chains here, from the ubiquitous Starbucks to the more specialized hipster variations, such as Blue Bottle Coffee of Oakland fame and Gorilla Coffee from Brooklyn. If you’re looking for Japan’s take on hipsterism, you can’t go wrong with Streamer Coffee in Harajuku or Bear Pond Espresso in Shimokitazawa. (Side note: will make you wish you could grow a man bun and facial hair.)
Japan also offers some novel café experiences you won’t find anywhere else in the world. If you’re adventurous, the cafés here can go well beyond the simple psychostimulant and straight into a world of fantasy. Maid or butler fantasies anyone? Head to a maid café in Harajuku and sip on a cup o’ Joe while a stereotypically costumed maid / butler waits on you hand and foot, cleans your ears and whispers sweet nothings of praise to you. If you like to be verbally abused and dominated, you can check out a Tsundere café, where the same mades are instructed to treat you like shit (but also secretly want your attention) until you walk out the door.
Miss having coffee with your favourite pet back home? Well in Japan you’re in luck. Head to a cat, dog, parrot, owl café found in various locations throughout Japan, where you can pet some animals while you sip your drink. It’s fun for the whole family!
Coffee Shops in this Post
Streamer Coffee (multiple locations)
Address: 3-28-19, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 9:00 – 18:00pm (Mon-Fri), 11:00 – 18:00 (Sat, Sun, Hol)
Gorilla Coffee (multiple locations)
Address: 1-20-17 Jinnan | 1 to 2F, Shibuya 150-0041
Hours: 7:30 – 22:00
Café 1894 (inside the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum)
Address: Marunochi, Chiyoda 100-0005, Tokyo Prefecture
Hours: 11:00 – 23:00
Café de l’Ambre
Address: 8-10-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 12:00-22:00 (Mon-Sat), 12:00 – 19:00 (Sun & Holidays)
Owl Family Osaka
Address: 1 Chome-10-13 Tenjinbashi, Kita Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 530-0041
Hours: 12:00 – 20:00 (Tues-Fri), 11:00 – 20:00 (Sat-Sun)