Throughout history Tokyo has rarely succumbed to any uniformed urban transformation, yet several business districts took shape and remain to this day. The same can be said, to an extent, about the spread of specialty coffee in the city; while helping to shape Tokyo's culture, the growth of specialty coffee here has not been particularly uniform or followed a specific kind of pattern or logic.
Business districts such as Akasaka, Marunouchi, Shinagawa, Shimbashi, Roppongi and Toranomon are littered with coffee chains but not anything you could describe as close to specialty coffee. This is in direct contrast to cities such as London, for example, whose London City “square mile” area is home to several top-flight coffee shops like Association Coffee and Taylor St. Baristas, to name just a few.
But here in 2014, Tokyo now seems to be following suit with Toranomon Koffee, located in the Mori Building in the bustling Toranomon business district. This new shop is the brainchild of Eiichi Kunitomo, founder of Omotesando Koffee, a beautiful coffee bar located inside a traditional Japanese home and modeled on a classic tatami room. Mr. Kunimoto has now brought his concept to one of the key business districts in Tokyo, an area which is also a key focal point for the 2020 Olympics.
On approaching the store itself, based in the lobby of the building, you are struck by the beautiful bar arrangement that echoes that of Omotesando Koffee. There is a feeling of Japanese craftsmanship fused together with aesthetic simplicity and a straightforward flow: espresso bar on the right hand side, brew bar on your left.
The ‘frame’ system at Toranomon Koffee, in which the cafe's machinery and brewing implements are stored, helps to neatly separate the space from the lobby whilst still remaining spacious and airy. On the espresso bar there is a custom La Marzocco Strada EP-3 flanked by Mazzer grinders; this is contemporary equipment, but it has been arranged in a way that feels understated and somehow traditional, in a stark contrast to the ultra-modern building around it.
I visited this space during the staff's daily cupping, and was met by a barista named Yoshioka Yuki. Knowledgable and friendly, with a half-decade of professional coffee experience, Mr. Yuki prepared my cappuccino with a clear pride in his product and a sense of kodawari (a Japanese word reflecting fastidiousness and fixation on detail). This shop's coffee is roasted for the Japanese palate, which is to say, it is perhaps a good shade darker than what one might find at a specialty cafe in London or Los Angeles. But my resulting beverage was both sweet and smooth, with a well-crafted foam resulting in an altogether very balanced cup.
The arrival of Toranomon Koffee is encouraging for any drinker of specialty coffee based in the business districts of Tokyo. The world of Tokyo coffee is expanding rapidly, and the dream of delicious coffee on the way to your morning meeting is coming into focus.
Dom Sharman is the founder of Storm Coffee Co and a Sprudge contributor based in Tokyo. This is his first feature for Sprudge.com