Never settle for mediocre coffee. It may be harder to get that perfectly crafted caffeine hug in a mug when you’re traveling to new places, but life’s too short to drink bad coffee. A rule of thumb in our beloved over-saturated crowded Tokyo is that the more unique the place, the harder it will be to find. Small specialty coffee shops are usually tucked away, not occupying prime real estate around a train station, but relying on word-of-mouth and confident in their quality. So, when in Kichijoji, forget about that typical sour thing that some people call coffee and check the following coffee shops instead. Taste is guaranteed — they’ve been tried, tested and recommended by Kichijoji locals (myself included)!
Roasting, baking, and brewing daily, Sidewalk Stand offers specialty coffee, freshly baked goods and craft beer. The beans and bread are roasted and baked daily in-house, while the beers come from select microbreweries. Apart from their amazing espresso, they have almond milk latte, orange mocha, and even espresso shaved ice to refresh you in summer. Sidewalk Stand is great for takeaway coffee, but they also have a lovely bright sit-in area on the second floor. It is relatively small, so definitely not suitable for extended lounging. But there’s the whole park available for that.
Most visitors taking a stroll around Inokashira Pond will miss this shop, even though it’s just on the edge of the pond and in front of Inokashira-Koen Station on the local Keio Inokashira line. However, every coffee lover discovers it eventually and can’t stay away. This coffee shop has two more stores – one in Nakameguro and one in Yutenji, and their baked goods specialties differ from store to store. Map.
Both the easiest and hardest to find, Blue Sky coffee is right next to the pond but hidden behind lush greenery. Probably the first thing that catches your eye will be the Wizard of Oz painting, and then you’ll make out the cute old wooden house that has been overtaken by green leaves. Blue Sky does only takeaway in their iconic cups depicting the swan boats of Inokashira Pond. Hot latte drinkers will find those same swans on top of their drink’s foam. They also have unbearably cute cat-shaped doughnuts.
They roast the beans in-house, resulting in flavorful coffee that Blue Sky is rightfully proud of. The coffee drinks use high-quality espresso shots but are more affordable than most specialty coffee shops. There’s also cocoa, seasonal flavors such as maple latte, and for a stronger pick-me-up, there’s even a selection of wines and beers.
Note that this store has a policy that you can only take photos after ordering a drink. During heavy rain, they close even if they are usually open on that day. Additionally, they are often closed during the cherry blossom season because they are located in an overwhelmingly busy spot of the park. It’s best to check their Twitter before going. Map
A few minutes’ walk from Kichijoji station, this sliver of a house serves great specialty single-origin coffee. The espresso-based drinks of Ryumon are top-notch, served along with cakes and muffins in a clean, minimalist space. There are a few seats next to the counter, and a comfy sofa on the second floor. Of course, you can take the coffee to go in a highly Instagrammable cup with a cute wonky drawing of the Ryumon house.
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Coffee fans can feel free to ask the friendly owner and barista for the single-origin beans used, or ask for any tweaks. Superfans can buy Ryumon merchandise like t-shirts and tote bags, both in-store and online.
Note that this place has recently gained popularity, so expect to line up on weekends. Map
This blue beacon signals great coffee at the end of the lively Nakamichi shopping street. Patrons often sit on the front steps, some sipping espresso from Light Up’s signature blue cups, often combined with the legendary doughnuts from Hara Doughnuts next door. Light Up is one of those coffee shops that know exactly what they’re doing – and they share that knowledge with you. You can choose a preparation method, ask for tweaks, and always get a card informing you of the beans’ origin. Light Up also often does brewing workshops and tasting sessions open to everyone. They are passionate about educating the community on coffee culture, as much as Kichijoji locals are passionate about drinking their coffee. After all, the owners’ motto is “Coffee Light Ups Your Life.”
Light Up is all about bravely experimenting too, so apart from classic drinks, they often have seasonal offerings like coffee jelly latte, espresso lemon soda, coffee cola and more. Beans and bottled drinks are sold in the store and online.
Light Up has another store in Shimokitazawa and recently opened a coffee stand in Shibuya Parco, but Kichijoji is their original location. Map
Closer to the classic Japanese kissaten charm, Blackwell doesn’t do espresso. However, they attract coffee lovers with their high-quality pour-over from carefully selected and roasted beans. If you want in on this, you can create your own custom-made blend that they will serve you each time you visit. Apart from this special service, all patrons have a say in the roasting degree, the master welcomes any coffee-related questions.
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Further updating classic Japanese coffee shops, Blackwell is bravely experimenting with desserts like coffee zenzai – a traditional Japanese dessert that has been newly caffeinated. Their eclectic menu also has proper bagels that are highly recommended and Blackwell often runs out of them at some point in the day. The shop interior mixes the dark wood ambient of a dimly lit kissaten with modern hipster coffee shops’ big bright windows. Best of both worlds. Perfect for reading a book while people-watching on Nakamichi street. Map
6. Malvarosa Perfetto
Saving the best for last – Malvarosa Perfetto is such secret local knowledge that there are barely any social media posts about it and their website has disappeared. 15-ish minutes walking from Kichijoji Station, it’s hard to chance upon this small coffee shop. But Kichijoji locals don’t need any of that.
Malvarosa is run solely by its owner and master barista who roasts the beans in-house, prepares the coffee however you want it, and sells beans and cups. This charming coffee heaven is like a time capsule – you usually drink out of traditional Japanese pottery or fancy European porcelain, while opera plays in the background. Coffee meets Zen. Map
If you need more Kichijoji coffee recommendations, here is our B-side list. Tsuru Coffee Roasters on Nakamichi is opposite Blackwell and offers classic kissaten vibes. Similarly, there is Kugutsusou, an underground cave-like coffee shop, located in Kichijoji Sunroad, famous for its pour-over coffee and Japanese curry. Cafetelier is a minimalist shared space housing a different coffee shop depending on the day of the week. LIVE coffee is on the way to Rymon and they have a myriad of in-store roasted beans to choose from. Lastly, although Cafe Zenon is not known as a coffee shop and it’s more famous for the manga publisher running it, they serve a great latte that comes close to specialty coffee shops. Enjoy!
All images by Zoria Petkoska