I was recently in Tokyo making coffee at the Braindead Pop-Up in Harajuku. Making sure I checked out a few coffee places that were top of the list for me, here’s my personal top three. This isn’t a definitive list, just a moment in time.
1 Chome-19-8 Dogenzaka,
It’s a hole in the wall, it’s a minimalist coffee space, it’s got a teeny tiny indoor bit. So cute and homely. They roast their own coffee at Onibus, kinda like a share roastery type thing. Barista's are warm and welcoming, coffee is executed so well. This place is fucking good. You love it instantly and then you want to take it home with you. Plus it was a stones throw from my hotel, so I was there every day. When I was in need of some brew gear for the Pop Up, the owner and all round nice guy, Wataru kindly obliged and lent me his whole brew set up, what a champ. This place is a must for anyone visiting Tokyo, it’s also one of the few places that opens early. Get there!
2 Chome-14-1 Kamimeguro
Cool place. Very small. I recently learned that you can get a diploma for ‘working in confined spaces’. Well the roaster at Onibus is the unofficial honorary Doctor of Confined Spaces. To say the space is tiny and cramped is an understatement. Much respect to all at Onibus for making this work, I was extremely impressed. If anyone ever complains about having too little space again I will be sure to direct them here.
Milky coffee here was really delicious, such a familiar thing but so different. Milk is always going to be different from region to region, I always notice this travelling around Australia let alone travelling to another country. Still very sweet and creamy. The construction was really similar to Melbourne, a great balance between light roasted, sugar developed blend and ‘just right’ textured milk. Batchie was a Kenyan from the Kagumoini Washing Station. Classic Kenyan with Black Currant and Lemongrass but roasted really light. It made me think of cupping in Kenya as the coffee still had a freshness to it that you don’t often find. I was really impressed by the roasting at Onibus, it is always a pleasure to have your preconceptions challenged and to rethink how you do your own thing. This place has delicious brews and speedy service. They also bake some amazing banana bread. Shout out to Natsuko for her mad baking skills, what a legend!
4 Chome-15-３ Jingumae
In the back streets of Harajuku resides one of the most compelling and individual coffee experiences you may ever have. Inside a cave like wooden structure is a simple brew bar, an impressive coffee list and some dudes in white lab coats ready to prepare coffee for you. Koffee Mamaya sources coffee from roasteries around the world. It is somewhat of a best of the best. There is always a queue to be served and the experience is talked about in hushed tones, with a sense of disbelief and awe. With this in mind I was surprised to learn that Koffee Mamaya is actually super fun and educational. It’s a tailored personal experience, that takes into account your own coffee history and builds on it.
The reason there’s always a queue is that once you are served, you are not rushed. This is not an in and out takeaway coffee experience, but rather Koffee Mamaya taking the time to find out what you like about coffee, what you are searching for and most importantly how you brew coffee and then working with that knowledge to teach you something through brewing a selected coffee together. It’s about discovering what you are comfortable with and expanding upon it. So after you have experienced a coffee that aligns with your previous flavour experiences you can leave with a similar (but probably better quality) coffee having been taught a better way to brew this coffee at home. The blatant disregard for any cafe trickery, the casual ‘time on our side’ customer education coupled with superb brewing leaves you with a new respect for the raw ingredients themselves. Taka was my host, my custodian. We had met in Melbourne a few months earlier at Wood + Co HQ. He gave me the Koffee Mamaya brief and outlined what we would do today and then chose for me an Ethiopian roasted by Coffee Collective in Denmark. Next I was met by the second Taka (there were three Taka’s working that day) who brewed the coffee for me on a Hario V60. I reckon V60 is the most consistent way to brew coffee, maybe not the most creative but you can always taste the true nature of the coffee without the “brew process” getting in the way. The Alaka, a washed Ethiopian from Guji tasted really great, peach, citrus with some black tea goin’ on. Koffee Mamaya is a must for anyone, anywhere who cares about coffee. If time and proximity weren’t my barriers I would be here at least once a week.
Because it reminded me of this-
That baristas, roasters and cuppers are not the masters. That producers are a great asset and the hardest working custodians of coffee, that we truly owe them so much, but our real debt lies with nature itself. Coffee is the seed of a tropical fruit from a land that goes by many names. We call it Ethiopia and its endemic shrubs have been taken to far corners of the tropics. Whether we were destined to do with it what we do is a complex and strange concept to ponder. That the communion we share when drinking coffee together, a drink that has been touched by many, is a sacred and special experience. A mystical melding of nature, art and craft that will forever capture our attention and fascination. When there is so much work to be done and many problems to address, like I was shown at Koffee Mamaya, let us take some time to share a brew or two and be in the moment.
Thanks Tokyo and new friends, I shall return.