Tokyo coffee Blue Bottle

It’s a sign – a welcome one at that

On our first visit to Tokyo, two short years ago, there were a handful of cafes serving European-style coffee that didn’t fall under the umbrella of one of the global chains. Greedy Girl has nothing against people who frequent Starbucks – it’s just not her thing.

But Tokyo coffee has progressed dramatically. One of her favourite Paris haunts, Coutume, has opened an outlet in Tokyo, as has the San Francisco-based roaster, Blue Bottle. Both of them offer an address that reads, in part ‘Minami-aoyama’. Greedy Girl envisioned a coffee crawl on her first weekend back in this amazing city. Blue Bottle, however, proved extremely tricky to find, whereas Coutume was relatively straightforward.

Undaunted, we continually referred back to Google maps and even asked an American guy we bumped into during yet another wrong turn. At least he’d heard of Blue Bottle, even if he did steer us in the opposite direction. The penny finally dropped when we visited Commune 246. On checking out its address, the magic words ‘Minami-aoyama Chome 3’ appeared – the same as Greedy Girl had seen on the Blue Bottle website. While gluttonous husband waited for our order of ribbon fries to be cooked, Greedy Girl went in search of the elusive cafe. Eureka! We made a note to return the following morning, no longer being in the habit of drinking coffee late into the evening, unless we wanted to stay awake even later into the evening.

It can be gathered that finding addresses in Tokyo is an interesting, if frustrating, pastime. While Coutume is on Minami-aoyama Chome 5, there’s no quick, obvious or easy way to navigate to ‘Chome 3’ if you’re not a local. Grrrr.

So, the next morning on a very bright and inviting day, we found ourselves exiting Omotesando subway station at B3, turning right and heading down Aoyama Dori. If we passed the entrance to Commune 246, we’d gone too far. Occasionally, the cafe affixes a little card of the Blue Bottle logo to a lamp post on the main road. Greedy Girl spied this with glee, and we turned right down a lane to find the concrete edifice and the cafe above ‘Zucca’, an Italian eatery-cum-supermarket. We were dismayed to find there was a queue stretching the length of a steep staircase.

And so was our first taste of Blue Bottle Aoyama – the same system as we encountered in SF (see the blog Coffee in the US here). One queues to order coffee/snacks and then picks it up from the barista. Greedy Girl was having none of this; leaving gluttonous husband in the queue, she trundled inside to claim one of the large banquette seats and take in the view.

This is a large cafe, with a very pleasant leafy outlook. It’s non smoking (not to be sneezed at in Tokyo) and the look is industrial chic – there’s lots of polished concrete, timber, steel and glass (as you can see from the picture at the top of this post). There’s an inviting patio, while the interior seating is a mix of small low tables, high benches, timber stools and some upholstered seating around the wall at the far corner of the room. That’s where Greedy Girl took up residence and waved to a slightly glum gluttonous husband left cooling his heels, waiting to order.

Happily, the queue moved rather more efficiently in Tokyo than at either of the SF venues we visited last year (well, this is Japan after all). Gluttonous husband placed the order – a Gibraltar (yes, they use the same terminology for a small caffe latte here as in the US), an espresso and a slab of a buttery pound cake. The cake was moist and a nice foil for the coffee. Blue Bottle operates a roastery at its other Tokyo location in an industrial neighbourhood but the flavour, in Greedy Girl’s memory, was consistent with what we experienced in the US – robust, just the way Greedy Girl likes it. Gluttonous husband was also swooning over his espresso. He often comments he’d like to be able to replicate the richness with our home machine but, as yet, we’ve not found the right beans. The search continues.

Tokyo coffee Blue Bottle

Our mid-morning heart starter

The crowd built very quickly; well before we’d finished our little treat, there was barely a table left unoccupied. Clearly it has struck a chord with the locals, all of whom seemed to be rather fond of a breakfast egg sandwich. Note to self: try that next time.

It was worth making the effort to find Blue Bottle, although we continued to plump for Coutume for the rest of our stay – it was both easier to get to and the opening hours were a little friendlier for our needs. Blue Bottle doesn’t open until 10am. Tokyo coffee is in good hands.

Blue Bottle Aoyama

Minami-Aoyama 3-13-14, Minato-ku

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