If Starbucks is a little too “vanilla” for your taste, you might prefer this grown-up version of the ubiquitous coffee shop: Inspired by Starbucks.

By Vivian Morelli

We all like to whine about Starbucks and its overpriced coffee, toddler-and-housewife-filled interiors and commercialism, but we always find ourselves going back for the familiar convenience, and the fact that they’re some of the only smoke-free cafes in the country. Starbucks’ reputation recently went up a notch lately with its new Inspired venture, which is a fancier version of their usual coffee shops.

Mulled wine and scones: not a bad combination for winter

Mulled wine and scones: not a bad combination for winter

Although an outlet was already opened in Tamagawa last spring, it’s Shimokitazawa’s turn to get a branch. You can find it a few minutes’ walk from the station, stepping out of the crowded zone and into the residential area. Inspired by Starbucks looks like a sleeker older sibling, with its wooden interior and extensive menu. You can find the usual latte, cappuccino and espresso drinks, along with a selection of imported wine and beers. The red wine was mulled and came with a side dish of grilled pumpkin seeds, and the cappuccino was strong and adorned with some foamy art.

The bakery selection is also really tasty, with freshly baked scones, apple pie wedges and rich brownies. They even have special menu items, such as coffee jelly and the “shakerato,” which is a mix of espresso, ice and sugar. The preparation methods and equipment are all a bit more sophisticated than that at a regular Starbucks, and the place is very cozy and relaxing—fewer strollers, more MacBooks. We’re already thinking about going back there to do some work . . .

Inspired by Starbucks

More information: www.starbucks.co.jp/inspired

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Image: Bunny Bissoux