>> Tuesday, January 29, 2013
This is the eight post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi Akasaka, Rokurinsha, Mikawa Zezankyo, Kaoriya, Sushi Sawada, Sushi Aoki, and Street Foods in Tokyo.
Is there really such thing as a "best kept secret"?
After all, good secrets in the food world are hard to keep, and hidden gems quickly gain cult status through word-of-mouth, blog posts, and social media.
But it's hard to keep track of it all. And frankly, even though this tiny coffee shop has gained quite a following in the past year, I had no idea it existed. It's only because of my lunch and subsequent conversation with Shirley of Lovely Lanvin during our ethereal tempura lunch that I even found out about this place.
Welcome to Omotesando Koffee, one of the most unusual coffee shops I've ever visited.
Omotesando Koffee is most definitely "hidden". The tiny cube of a shop is quite difficult to find. Bryan and I meandered around this ritzy neighborhood in Omotesando quite a few times before we saw this tiny little sign.
Omotesando Koffee is probably unlike any coffee shop you've ever seen. Once you get past the traditional Japanese fence, beyond the lush green plants, you stumble upon this old, tatami-style Japanese home.
Except that it's anything but traditional.
The inside of this Japanese "home" is completely empty except for a large, single cube stuck right in the middle of the house. A lone barista stands inside the cube with his La Cimbali coffee machine and a few snacks.
The menu is simple - variations of iced "koffee", hot "koffee", and some snacks.
One of their most well known snacks or "kashi" is the Baked Custard, tiny cubes that remind me of French canelé (which I love).
I love the Baked Custard, which has a nice, hefty crust yet is gorgeously chewy on the inside. It goes perfectly with my cup of cappuccino. I think it's cute how they serve all of their desserts inside coffee filters. The coffee filters are also printed with the shop name as well as a map of the surrounding area.
The cappuccino is excellent. It's on par with my favorite coffee shops in Cambridge.
Off to the side you can buy other fun coffee related items, such as metal filters, insulated mugs, and even a "cup of coffee" literally made out of coffee beans. Of course, the cube-esque theme is quite pronounced here as well.
As I look around, I realize that I'm very lucky to be able to even visit this place.
You see, Omotesando Koffee was intended to just be a temporary pop-up. In fact, the old Japanese house was slated for destruction sometime in 2012. The original lease was only 12-months long. Owner Eichii Kunitomo's went with this box-like design because it could easily be disassembled and reassembled as it "popped up" around the world.
Things have changed since those original plans. The pop-up became so popular that people didn't really want it to leave the neighborhood. The 12-month lease has since been extended, which means Omotesando Koffee isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Who knows how long it will be before the shop is able to go where it dreams of going, reflected by the long list of destinations on its website? When will it get to actually disassemble and reassemble in a new location, the way it was designed to move?
I guess we'll have to wait and see, though it seems perfectly happy at Omotesando for the moment.
This place is not far at all from all the wonderful places to shop in Omotesando (my favorite being Kiddie Land, which I think has one of the best selections of Ghibli & Totoro themed stuff in Tokyo). You can easily walk from Harajuku (another really fun neighborhood to visit) to Omotesando. They are right next to each other. If you really like walking, you can do what Bryan and I like to do, which is to walk all the way from Shibuya to Harajuku to Omotesando.
One of the most famous tonkatsu restaurants in Tokyo, Maisen, is located just around the corner from this coffee shop. You can easily visit both in one day, maybe grab a coffee here after a meal at Maisen?
This place is cash only. If you need to get cash, there is a 7-11 right around the corner which accepts international debit cards.
This is a fun place to visit, though if you're short on time, I think it's also OK to skip it, especially if your goal is to experience things that are uniquely Japanese. The coffee is good, but not better than the best artisanal coffee shops in the US. Instead, I like to think that it's offering a wonderful opportunity for the Japanese to experience really good coffee, something we're blessed to have in abundance here on this side of the globe.