Coffee may not be the first beverage one thinks of when in Japan, the land of green tea. However, the Japanese are avid coffee drinkers, ranking 3rd among the nations that consume coffee most.
While chain cafes are abundant in Tokyo, the best cups of coffee are still served in the time-honored Japanese kissaten, traditional coffee shops that became ubiquitous during the Showa era. The kissaten emerged at a time where everything Western was attracting popularity in the daily lives of the modern Japanese. Thus, they were initially places that imitated European style cafes and popularized the West’s favorite drink, coffee.
Today, however, kissaten are the carriers of a distinctively Japanese character with their nostalgic Showa spirit and their particular approach to coffee. Considering this, I should not have been surprised to taste top-notch coffee in Tokyo, but I was still left in absolute awe after sipping my cup at Kabuki, a kissaten that is tucked away at a back alley in Asakusa, just minutes away from the streets bustling with tourists.
So far, I have learned not to be too astonished when coming across top quality food and drinks in unassuming establishments, since this is a common occurrence in Tokyo. Still, my experience at Kabuki proved to me once more that this city will never fail to amaze with buried hidden gems.
Kabuki astounded me, as it hides perhaps the city’s best coffee under its pretense of being a small, quiet Japanese kissaten. The inconspicuous entrance of Kabuki is an indication of what to expect.
A tiny stone plate with two kanji letters carved on it, and a well tended to plant ornaments what could very well be a normal apartment entrance. Kabuki does not need ostentatious signboards to market itself; a signal of silent confidence that extreme humility is built on. This confidence stems from the knowledge that their relentless striving for perfection results in an end product that is exceptionally fine, if not perfect.
The door opens to a sleek, old-fashioned kissaten. Calming jazz gives life to the solemn dark brown furniture. The patrons at the counter respect the quiet atmosphere and sip their coffee while reading pocket-sized books. I take my place at the counter and order my coffee but the book I brought with me remains neglected as I fail to take my eyes off the barista’s mesmerizing movements.
The coffee I ordered is prepared so meticulously, each minute step seems so studied that the whole act feels like a religious ritual. The flawless brewing results in coffee that is simply out of this world. The first sip from the elegant porcelain cup I am brought feels like a punch in the face. The drink bursts with fruity flavor and has none of the stale bitterness of incompetently brewed coffee. The aftertaste pleasantly lingers on the palate, giving sweet and savory notes yet none of the usual astringency that I associate with coffee.
This is as close as a cup can ever get to perfection.The barista’s approach to the coffee beans is one of reverence and the coffee she brews is about paying homage; not only to the ingredient, but also to the very art of coffee making. Kabuki is truly a sanctuary for serious coffee lovers.
Kabuki Kissaten Access Information
Address: Kabuki, 1 Chome-12-12 Misuji, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0055 (Google Maps URL)
12-minute walk from Asakusabashi Station (JR Chuo Sobu Line, Toei Asakusa LIne)
10-minute walk from Shin-Okachimachi Station (Toei Oedo Line, Tsukuba Express)
Craving a different kind of coffee experience? Check out these third-wave Tokyo coffee shops for a killer cup of joe!