Imported from Paris with its second home firmly rooted in Japan, Coutume is a welcome addition to the Tokyo coffee scene, with its clean white aesthetic, Coutume is both bright, fresh and modern while remaining somewhat minimal. Things in this cafe seem to find a balance between the technical and the simple, on the one hand there are Alpha Dominche Steampunk brewers and on the other hand, the service and presentation of brewed coffee is refreshingly simple. The atmosphere and clean uncluttered space is almost perfect for working in, yet most customers here seem to be chatting or watching the world go by.
Perusing the menu, there is a wealth of coffee options here, but I’m curious to try a coffee brewed on the Steampunk, So I ask which coffee they would recommend. On the Steampunk they’re serving the house blend, which is an interesting mix of two coffee’s from the same farm, one washed and one naturally processed.
The coffee arrives with strong distinct citrus aromas, featuring tangerines and lemons. To taste its a bright well rounded mouthful of citric acidity with some soft sweet acacia honey to balance it out. I’m not sure if the mouthfeel is indicative of the brewing process or the origin, but it’s a full and heavy almost muddy mouthfeel, not unpleasant, in fact far from it, but there’s no mistaking that this coffee has a lot of body. It tastes great and I’m impressed by the thought that has gone into a blend that uses coffee from the same farm, but uses a mixture of the processing to potentially improve both. I also can’t knock the brewing method either, it does seem particularly well extracted.
There’s a dedication here to the process of coffee, its discreetly buried beneath the details and the brewing options available to you as a customer, but more than that there’s a relaxed professionalism to go with it, which makes the experience all the more approachable and enjoyable.
5-8-10 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-Ku
A small ways down the street from Coutume we came across another French import in La Maison Du Chocolat, which was hard to pass by without popping in for some of their patisserie. Here we picked up a few treats for later on, a Venezuelan single origin Macaron and a caramel eclair.
Needless to say both were thoroughly enjoyed later in the park.
3-10-8, Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku,
Walking through some lovely residential space in the heart of Tokyo, we came across Lattest while enjoying the local scenery. Serving only espresso based beverages and at the time unknown to me, showcasing female baristas, we popped in to sample some Tokyo espresso culture.
The shot took a long time to pull through, at least 40+ seconds and appeared to be at the lighter side of an end beverage weight. Whether this was intentional or not I don’t know, I’ve heard of people pulling slow shots before, but not slow and short. I took the espresso to go, as we were enjoying strolling along Tokyo’s streets and wanted to continue our wandering. I tasted the shot as we were leaving, biscuits, caramel and chocolate, a fairly conventional espresso and was in a way far more typical than I’d expected given the unorthodox recipe. I should add it was tasty too, without being particularly challenging, but just right for helping me on my way.
3-5-2, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
I like doughnuts and they go well with coffee, although I rarely eat them at the same time as I sip my coffee. That said I still feel like they go together somehow and I might argue that Doughnut Plant make the best doughnuts I’ve ever had, so it was nice to see that these had been imported too.
Wanting something a bit more classical, we ordered a vanilla bean glazed ring doughnut and seen as we were in Japan, we ordered a matcha tea iced doughnut to go with it. Needless to say these were added to the feast in the park later and I was beginning to see why the Japanese loved flavouring everything with matcha tea.
Our hotel was in the Jimbocho area of Tokyo and there wasn’t much in the way of independent coffee shops nearby, but we did manage to find this place on our walk to the train station. It had the look of a typical cafe from the outside and even the inside had afterthought tables and a small tv in the corner playing local sports channels, but I had spotted in the back, jars and jars of labelled beans, cloth and paper filters and even cevze pots. I was curious to see whether this more traditional Japanese coffee shop might in any way be a hidden gem, or at the very least more atypical of Japanese coffee culture.
I still don’t know what this place was called and so I’ve creatively labelled it Coffee Jimbocho. It was run by a welcoming and friendly husband and wife team from what I could tell, who both barely spoke a word of English, but between gesturing and throwing up peace signs to explain two cups we managed to make our order. Two cups of brewed black coffee choosing the Kilimanjaro beans, which I can only assume in retrospect were Tanzanian. The barista then set about grinding the beans and proceeded to brew the coffee in a cevze pot on the back before straining through the cloth filter, I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody combine these two methods before to produce a finished cup, but I was excited to try the outcome.
Arriving at the table, while Japanese womens football played on the tv, in these decorative small coffee cups, which I was actually rather fond of. It came with aromas of demerara sugar, woodsmoke and sweet plums. I proceeded to taste the coffee, it was dark and brooding with flavours of brandy snaps, bitter dark chocolate and plums. As it cooled it revealed more citrus, especially some lemon in the finish, smooth and balanced it was again indicative of a Japanese style of coffee. It was smooth, balanced and bittersweet, not huge on flavour or massively acidic, this coffee seemed to be about achieving refinement through the roast rather than bold flavour.
We made our thanks and goodbyes, while asking to take some photos, which they seemed somewhat surprised about, but happy enough to let me take before leaving. I liked this place, I would go there again, a truly neighbourhood cafe that probably hasn’t changed in forever, that serves way better coffee than the local cafes that haven’t changed in forever round my way, just because. I left giving some thought to what it must be like to have had historically better coffee, just because and how this affects building a specialty coffee scene.