Once known for its small clubs and theater scene, Shimokitazawa has bloomed into a diverse blend of boutiques, bars, restaurants, cafes, specialty shops, and entertainment. It’s a neighborhood of unique expression and colorful personality, and is a growing favorite with locals and tourists alike.
A hive of youth culture and eclectic energy, Shimokitazawa buzzes with a mix of trend-setting and vintage-stubborn. You’ll find it in the coffee scene, too—a blend of eccentric, traditional, international, relaxed, vibrant, and artisanal. It's a wonderful snapshot of the diversity of expression in coffee, and the list of spots below hits on a little bit of everything—from the historical to the contemporary and the casual to the obsessive.
On the Way, Coffee and Cupcakes
Perhaps the cutest coffee shop in town, On the Way, Coffee and Cupcakes is about connecting people…on their way. Whether it’s to work, to meet friends, or to or from home, there’s always time for a short break with a cup of coffee and a cupcake.
Taking inspiration from his two years in Australia, On The Way’s owner, Shingo Fukuda, thought to bring a slice of Sydney back with him (in case you’re wondering why Australian radio plays over the speakers, well, now you know). The variety of cupcake flavors—vanilla blue, caramel nut, matcha azuki, and chocolate banana, to name a few—makes for a beautiful little display, which pairs nicely with the coffee selection, with a seasonal blend that mixes beans from Mexico and Rwanda.
Frankie Melbourne Espresso
Frankie Melbourne Espresso is the new kid on the coffee block, looking to bring a piece of Melbourne's coffee-and-brunch culture to Shimokitazawa. Here you’ll find Allpress Coffee and a fine selection of Aussie favorites: Anzac biscuits, lemon slice, banana bread, and smashed avocado.
The small shop is quickly gathering a dedicated fan base, and there’s a warmth to the place that’s hard not to like; where most shops greet their customers with an “Irasshaimase!” it’s nice to walk into Frankie and get a “How’s it going?” in its place.
Bookends Coffee Service
Bookends Coffee Service, a popular spot with locals, is the slow, easygoing coffee experience in the neighborhood—placing emphasis on both cheap coffees to go and a moment of respite to stay. Here you'll find old records playing classic pop music and seats that lend themselves as much to banter with friendly strangers as to quietly watching pedestrians pass by outside.
If you want a peek into the life and times of the local neighborhood, look no further than a quiet hour at Bookends.
Coffea Exlibris is the specialty-coffee shop in town—here you’ll find a selection of single-origin coffees described and displayed as a way to offer a deeper understanding of the depth and variety in coffee. It’s located a little ways out of the central hub of Shimokitazawa—one gets the feeling that decision is intentional—and is a place for the adventurers, the explorers, and the coffee lovers.
Coffea Exlibris is a peaceful spot that lends itself to simply enjoying the coffee in front of you. The interior is simple and unpretentious, but one gets the feeling that this, too, is intentional. Each cup comes with a beautifully designed card detailing the coffee and its flavor notes, and it’s not uncommon for servers to bring over new coffees for you to taste as you sit.
This space invites a very particular kind of quiet experience—one of appreciation, contemplation, and discovery.
For a cup straight out of the history books, look no further than the local roastery, Maldive. This corner shop has filled the streets with the aroma of roasted coffee since 1984, and its little Fuji roaster shows no sign of stopping.
Owner Toru Oikawa first discovered coffee as a boy and was enchanted by the kissaten, tearooms that also offer a curious but comforting mix of coffee, cigarettes, and curry. As he grew to understand the process better, he realized the importance of roasting, and wanted to make coffee an everyday part of neighborhood life.
Maldive is popular for a unique cafe au lait jelly: a combination of milk, coffee jelly, and cold-brew coffee (with cold-brew ice cubes!) that is a flavor experience all its own.
Bear Pond Espresso
Bear Pond Espresso is the most famous coffee shop in Shimokitazawa, if not Japan, though you’d never know it by simply stumbling across it. The mostly undecorated exterior opens into a room of simple wooden benches on a worn wooden floor, on which there sits a small counter and an espresso machine.
It’s behind this espresso machine that Katsuyuki “Katsu” Tanaka—of A Film About Coffee fame—makes the Angel Stain: a one-of-a-kind espresso that expresses not just Katsu’s love for the brew, but also his philosophy as it relates to life, freedom, and his “coffee people have to be sexy” way.
Simply put, you won’t find another place quite like it anywhere else in the neighborhood.
Yanaka Coffee‘s Shimokitazawa branch is also a hub for the community, with one intriguing difference—it links people together with a play on the suspended coffee idea. At Yanaka, when you earn enough stamps on your coffee card, you can gift a cup of coffee to anyone you like…as long as it isn't yourself.
In the file of collected coffee cards and thank-you notes, you’ll find messages from cat lovers to cat lovers, from old hands to the newly moved-in, and from newlyweds to anyone and everyone—it’s a heart-warming display of the connection that exists in the cups of coffee and the kindness of the local community.
Brown's Books & Cafe
Open only on weekends, Brown's Books & Cafe is perhaps the best place in the neighborhood to disappear into a world of books and coffee.
The staff here is polite, attentive, and practically invisible—they take orders quietly, deliver conscientiously, and once you’re set, they disappear. You’re left alone with book-filled walls—the message perhaps being that the company you’re looking for will be found in the pages somewhere.
The music at Brown’s is an assortment of artists and genres—violin-led jazz blends into acoustic-guitar variations on Satie, followed by smooth bossa nova. It’s creative without being intrusive, and is conducive to working, reading, relaxing, or just zoning out.
Brown’s Books and Cafe is a tranquil pocket of creativity in a town that seems to get a little louder every day.
Translated as “trial balloon” or “celestial observation,” the Ballon D'Essai experience takes specialty coffee, classy machinery, and high-quality water and milk and puts them in the hands of talented baristas to present an expression of art and personality. The resulting lattes provide a chance to remember the little things in life—that happiness and art can emerge anywhere if you just get a little creative.
Ballon D'Essai offers a pleasant surprise with your pick-me-up—it’s like stumbling across a 500 yen coin on a walk through the park. You never know what you’ll find etched onto the surface of your coffee, but you can rest assured it will always add a little light to your day.