The Takashimaya department store in Futako-Tamagawa is a picture of elegance and refinement. The stately building stands tall, like a church of high quality fashion and designer goods, in which immaculately dressed floor staff are the oracles of new trends and apparel. The halls of this Takashimaya are where the faithful gather to shop, admire, and now, thanks to Coutume Cafe‘s latest outlet, indulge in specialty coffee.
Department stores have long been a staple of Japanese shopping culture—starting out as dry goods stores for the samurai and upper classes, development throughout the 20th century took them to the forefront of retail westernization in Japan. Adapting from the west while catering to a domestic audience, department stores in Japan are now unique experiences unto themselves—representing a luxurious, refined way of life.
Until recently, it's been in the basement food courts, or depachika, that specialty coffee has spread its message through department store culture—pop-up stores and coffee events dot the calendar, but are at best transitory. This is why the new Coutume cafe marks something of a departure from the norm. Here, the specialty coffee experience is first floor, front and center, and surrounded by Ralph Lauren, Moncler, and Chanel.
The Takashimaya story is one of development through westernization—having helped to both manufacture and supply western-style interior design for the Imperial Palace and the Japan Diet Building in the late 19th century, the store went on to promote and sell a new lifestyle to the upper classes of Japan—in turn shifting perceptions of fashion, furniture, and food culture.
The concept of the new Coutume cafe, too, seems to fit this mold. Unlike their Aoyama and Osaka stores, both of which reside in bustling city centers full of hurried travelers, the Futako-Tamagawa area is largely a residential one, comprised of families starting up and careers winding down. This means there’s a little more time for staff to talk about the coffees on offer, and a little more time for the process to be appreciated in full. It’s a relaxed introduction for a new, more upper-class market.
The new cafe acts as an altar to the brew bar goddess, and a shrine to coffee simplicity. Naturally, the highlight of the counter is the pour-over station, upon which the meticulous approach to brewing a cup is the showcase for true believers and new arrivals alike.
Transparent floor-to-ceiling windows look into an interior of wood, white tiling, and interweaving gold bars. These thin bars break off into small platforms on which coffee bags hover like wards against evil. The coffees on display mark the new store as different to the others—the location is planned as a center for high-scoring coffees, and whatever other interesting discoveries Coutume head roaster Antoine Nétien stumbles across on his travels.
The Futako-Tamagawa location is also the planned spot for eventually unveiling Coutume’s new contribution to the world of filter coffee brewing devices—the details are hush-hush, but Coutume is working with a Japanese designer and experimenting with ceramic and stoneware designs, with plans to release later this year.
Specialty coffee in Tokyo is already making waves at the grassroots level thanks to neighborhood coffee shops like Switch, Fuglen, Onibus, and ARiSE, but cafes like Coutume cafe (and also Cream of the Crop in Hikarie) mark intriguing forays into reaching out to and educating new markets. Whether this marks a new wave of department store culture, though—we'll just have to see.