If you count Tully’s, Starbucks, it’s down market cousin Doutor and spooky Starbucks rip-offs like Excelsior, then Tokyo is definitely not short on coffee joints. Certainly Starbucks has its uses – they don’t mind if you set your computer up and work there for a few hours and the air conditioning in the middle of summer can bring you back from the brink of heat exhaustion. However, the coffee at all of these places is swill and if you have any appreciation of coffee, you’ll avoid them. The same goes for any place with a free refill from the coffee pot – drip coffee is not much better than instant and even Starbucks is preferable to this.
Anyway, my coffee snobbery aside, it’s possible to get good espresso in Tokyo at prices much cheaper than the horrible chains. The place that I think has the best value coffee in Tokyo at the moment is Bar del Popolo in Akasaka. Bar del Popolo is as the name suggests, an Italian cafe/bar. Along with coffee they serve wine and beer, pizzas, pasta, various antipasti including Italian hams and cheeses and very good gelato.
But the coffee alone is worth the visit if you’re in the neighbourhood. A single shot of espresso (or a short black as it’s called in my native NZ) will set you back 200yen, a macchiato 250yen, and a caffe latte 300yen. There are a few other coffee options on the menu but they’re all within the 200 to 300yen range. The quality of the espresso is also good – good bitterness, nice flavours and silky smooth milk. Not the best espresso in Tokyo, but for the price it is outstanding.
As with many restaurants in Tokyo, the off-peak rule applies – these prices only apply before 5pm. After 5, the prices rise considerably, so your 300yen latte will go up to 500yen.
Bar del Popolo is a little difficult to find. It’s just off Hitotsugi Dori (the street with the lamp posts made of logs) in Akasaka about 100m from Exit 1 of Akasaka Station down a side street on the left hand side as you head towards Aoyama Dori.
NB. this is first in a series. We’ll be covering other cheap coffee places also. If you have any ideas though, please let us know.