Out east, away from the labyrinthine streets of central Tokyo, the sky seems bigger and a nice ‘weekend breeze’ blows all week long. Along the wider, cycle-friendly roads, and in between the larger lots, the bitter, heady aroma of freshly roasted coffee punctuates the air at almost-regular intervals.
The small area around Kiyosumi Shirakawa station, between the Sumida River, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo is home to a surprisingly dense concentration of new and established coffee roasteries that have taken advantage of the vacant industrial tenancies to house their roasting operations.
While a quick break at one of these flagship roastery-cafes is the conventional way to punctuate a weekend visiting the nearby parks, promenades, museums, galleries and shops, the Kiyosumi Coffee Walk treats these spaces as destinations in their own right – and makes for an alternate (hyper-caffeinated) way to experience the city.
It took two years for New Zealand coffee company Allpress to find a home for their Japan operations. The abandoned timber warehouse that caught their eye while cycling in 2013 was carefully refurbished a year later. In a controlled blend of old and new, the high-ceilinged wholesale roastery is separated from the welcoming cafe area by a curved glass wall.
Their hot-air roaster (as opposed to the more traditional drum) is employed to create a coffee of unwavering consistency. Rather than shooting for variety and novelty, the idea of consistently producing a high quality roast, that the drinker doesn’t tire of, is the noble end to which they work.
2．ARISE COFFEE ROASTERS
A short walk down the road is Arise Coffee Roasters, the first such roastery to open in the area (2013). Owner Hiyashi Taiju has a connection to the area that runs deeper than most, and his hybrid roastery-cafe selling beans for home-use as well as pour-overs, has a distinctly more local vibe – having been conceived with Kiyosumi in mind.
3．BLUE BOTTLE COFFEE
A stone’s throw away in another renovated warehouse, sits San Francisco’s third-wave darlings Blue Bottle Coffee. The now well-established Japanese franchise opened its first cafe in Kiyosumi in 2015, cementing the area as one of Tokyo’s coffee centers, and bringing with it a new crowd of coffee aesthetes.
Recently re-adapted to accommodate more interior seating, the industrial-craft detailing by long-time collaborators Schemata Architecture, makes it worthwhile to sit-in.
Short for Bread and Bean, new kids on the block B2 are a recent addition to the Kiyosumi stable. Opened earlier this year, the flagship combines a French influenced bakery with a small batch roaster – an olfactory overload. The store interior by designer Shogo Onodera features a black-tiled island counter that combines the bread display and coffee operations in the modish industrial style.
The head baker, barista and roaster are independently experts in their fields, combined they have over 25 years of experience. The principle of crafting the goods from scratch is emphasized in the selection of various raw ingredients from around the world and on-site roasting facilities ensure freshness and oversight of quality control.
Crossing the Sendaibori river to the north, via the Matsuo Basho walking path, is the final destination. Teru and Kim Harase who established iki ESPRESSO in 2015 are energetic and cheerful hosts who embody the cafe’s mantra “great coffee, beautiful food, friendly people.”
No stranger to the espresso machine having plied his trade as a rugby playing barista in Auckland, Teru is just as at home working the cafe floor as he is dreaming up the next event or project (such as a the new second floor event space and kitchen ‘Little iki’).
The brunch-style food offerings for which iki is famous offer a departure from the roastery focused cafes, and a welcome opportunity to soak up the caffeine – which is just as well if you’re four cups down.