You don’t find Mocha Coffee so much as discover it. The first sign of its existence is an unassuming sign between two concrete buildings. Squeeze between them and you’ll find a door at the end of a small path lined with plants, and a plain chalkboard menu. This is the entrance to Mocha Coffee.
Mocha Coffee is a modest space of white wood and glass, surprisingly tucked away in the trendy Daikanyama area. Owner Maiko Miyake says before they opened in 2011, it was used for small art exhibitions. As she hands me a menu she tells me that in summer she opens the glass panels so customers can sit amongst the greenery. On winter nights, it’s like a little pocket of warm light between buildings.
Mocha Coffee is named for its coffee selection—all of which is from Yemen. Hamadi, Matari, Ismaili, Malala, the list goes on, but sometimes changes with the season and availability. Miyake says she likes the scent, and the slightly wild, natural characteristics of coffee from this part of the world.
As she brews a cup of coffee, she tells me she fell into the cafe business. She says when they first opened, she had a source in Yemen and the idea of sharing a unique experience with a neighborhood, but had no management experience, and didn’t know anything about running a cafe, and had only a basic understanding of how to handle coffee.
She says that all of it—the coffee, the location, the space, the business—was a result of good fortune. She was in the right place at the right time, met the right people, had the right support, and customers kept coming back. Things fell into place.
Customers come and go as we chat. Tourists, shoppers, and locals. Miyake brews their coffees with a relaxed, easygoing grace that permeates the space. There’s a feeling that time slows here. It’s the kind of calm that feels perfect for a book or a quiet conversation.
Miyake says her favorite thing about coffee is the way it has introduced her to new people and new friends, both from Japan and abroad. “Of course I like to serve good coffee, too,” she says, cutting a slice of homemade cake for a customer, “but I like that it’s a point of connection more than anything else.”
“This job suits me, I think,” she says.
She tells me about the Arabian coffee—of the light roast, the cardamom, the cloves, and the saffron—and the dried dates she usually has to go with them. It strikes me as a little absurd to think there’s a little coffee shop in a fashionable district of Tokyo where you can drink traditional Arabian coffee with dates or cake.
But that’s part of the charm of Mocha Coffee, hidden among the fashion boutiques and the restaurants of the district. It’s not at all what you expect to find here, and yet it feels utterly and completely at home.