Aug 4, 2015
Until recently, the neighborhood of Kiyosumi-shirakawa in Tokyo’s Koto ward was probably famous for but one thing; Kiyosumi Teien, a splendid Meiji Period garden. These days, otherwise unassuming Kiyosumi, is carving out a new brand, and has managed to get itself introduced on national TV as ‘Coffee Town’.
Of course, given the abundance of chain-store coffee joints throughout Tokyo, anywhere could claim to be a ‘coffee town’. What we’re talking about in Kiyosumi are independent operations. Here, wholesome looking staff in dark-rimmed spectacles wear their shop aprons with pride rather than the mild embarrassment that haunts many part-time, chain-store servers.
In our earlier article, How Much Is A Cup Of Coffee In Japan?, we looked at the cost of coffee in Japan’s chain-store behemoths. This time, we’re giving the proverbial one-finger salute to corporate copycats, and celebrating all things indie. Or, at least, telling you how much they charge.
Not that this ‘indie coffee’ image is immediately forthcoming. Upon exiting Kiyosumi-shirakawa Station, you might feel that this is a place where you’d go to visit grandma and granddad. No, Kiyosumi’s coffee joints blend into the scene of crumbling houses and quiet residential streets. You’ve got to keep your eyes peeled.
No coverage of Kiyosumi’s coffee scene would be complete without mentioning Blue Bottle Coffee. Arguably, it’s responsible for putting the area on the map. So, let’s get it out of the way.
Blue Bottle’s menu is unfussy; Espresso Drinks, 450 - 600 yen / Drip Coffee, 450 - 550 yen / Ice Coffees, 500 yen.
Don’t come here thinking you’re going to crack open the laptop and get some work done. Such is the popularity of this place, the vibe is very much, get in, get your drink, and get out (for the time being at least)! Plus the seating isn’t particularly comfy anyway.
Blue Bottle Coffee sits in an otherwise quiet residential area south of the station, east of the garden. There are other cafes nearby.
If Blue Bottle is looking like bit of a circus, you can escape to ARiSE COFFEE ROASTERS just down the street (turn left out of Blue Bottle). This pint-sized spot has the kind of intimate vibe where you might spark up conversation with the staff. Drip Coffee, 350 yen (medium) / 450 yen (large).
Turn left before ARiSE and head back to Kiyosumi Dori (清澄通り). On your left on this quiet residential street is another operation that seems to be waiting for things to calm down at Blue Bottle. Fukadaso Cafe is an arty, communal space (with plenty of space). On the menu is Coffee, 450 yen / Latte, 500 yen / Caramel Latte, 550 yen / Cafe Mocha, 550 yen. The cafe is on the ground floor of the Fukadaso emporium (?); a collection of art/craft creators and sellers.
Back at Kiyosumi-shirakawa Station, take exit A3 and head south on Kiyosumi Dori . There are one or two operations as you skirt the famous garden. The first one you’ll come to (on your left) is hane-cafe (pronounce ha nay).
Don’t be put off by the nondescript exterior. Inside is full to the brim with aviation memorabilia, and chairs that have the look of an airport waiting lounge. A few doors down, こふく (kofuku) serves Coffee (hot/ice), 350 yen / Cappuccino, 400 yen / Latte (hot/ice), 400 yen. A little further south and across the street, keep your eyes out for Cafe Kiyosumi (it’s easy to miss). The cafe is a small spot with an even smaller menu taped to the window. Coffee (hot/ice), 380 yen / Cafe au lait, 400 yen.
After the garden, turn right before the river. ARiSE COFFEE ENTANGLE has got itself a great spot across a quiet road from the garden and the grand, city library. There’s a bench out front (set behind some plants) where you can watch the action (or lack thereof) go down.
The closest spot to Kiyosumi-shirakawa Station is Brew Parlor 3615, on Kiyosu-bashi Dori (清洲橋通り), (turn right from exit A3 and then left at the crossroads). To separate themselves from the pack, Brew Parlor offers a B.I.Y experience; brew it yourself. They have two methods (which guests do at the table), pour-over drip or French press. The menu includes; Regular Coffee (hot), 500 yen / (ice), 550 yen / Water-brewed Iced Coffee, 600 yen. At the time of visiting, this place was busy with groups of friends going giddy over the B.I.Y novelty.
North of the station on Kiyosumi Dori you start to leave ‘coffee town’. There are a couple of options ‘on the way out’. Both DUMBO II (ダンボ ツー) and TAROS CAFE are three - four blocks north of the Onagi River (小名木川). Keep your eyes open for DUMBO, it’s down a narrow alley as you head north. Billed as a ‘music + art, cafe & bar’, their cafe menu runs until 19:30; DUMBO II Blend Coffee, Recommended Coffee, and Ice Coffee, all 450 yen. You can’t miss TAROS CAFE, which exudes an aged charm right on the corner, one block further on. TAROS Original, Indonesia, and Ethiopia Coffees, all 400 yen / Ice Coffee, 450 yen.
When you visit the coffee shops in this area, better to subscribe to the philosophy of size doesn’t matter; most operations serve coffees in one size only.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to Kiyosumi’s indie coffee haunts, but hopefully it will give you an idea of what to expect, particularly in terms of cost. The area’s lack of crowds and traffic mean it’s ripe for taking a stroll and making your own coffee-based discoveries.
Kiyosumi-shirakawa Station is served by the Tokyo Metro Hanzōmon Line and the Toei Ōedo Line.
For more about the kinds of coffee being poured in Japan ...