Japan Eats

Café Review: Tokyo Apartment Café (Harajuku)

I’d first visited this café several years ago when I’d just arrived in the country. Being a snobby ex-barista from Wellington I was disappointed to find that coffee and cafés in “cool Tokyo” were mostly chain places with automatic machines. Apartment Café was one of the places which gave me hope that Tokyo did indeed have a café culture worth getting excited about.

Apartment Café

Apartment Café

Apartment Café uses Illy beans, imported from Italy. Having recently visited an Illy brand café in Yurakucho I can happily report that the barista at Apartment Café can actually create something good with them!

My first coffee of the visit is a hot café latte – a distinction that needs to be pointed out in Japanese cafés. The café is busy, but not frantic, so my coffee is delivered promptly. The milk has been spun and stretched quite well, though the finished product is not as shiny as you would really like. Still, no complaints. This coffee is smooth. The shot is nicely done, too. The finish was suitably smooth, though I think it was a single shot. A double of these Illy beans might be a bit rough. The temperature of the coffee was good, too. Quite often, especially at the chain cafés, the baristas rely on a temperature gauge in the milk jug rather than their hand. The two baristas I’ve seen here at Apartment Café are using their left hands on the side of the jug and are getting good results – no boiled or burnt milk here.

The bean hopper on the grinder looks to be three quarters full, but the baristas are only grinding beans as necessary. Good. Ground beans exposed to air have a shelf life of about 5 minutes. If they’ve been sitting there for longer the cup that arrives at your table won’t be as good as it could be. Both baristas are stretching milk without too much noise, meaning the milk will be thick and smooth, not big and bubbly. One thing I have noticed though is that they are not wiping out the basket between shots. Grounds left in the basket from the previous shot can make a coffee quite bitter. However, the shots are going straight into the cups, not into a shot glass. This means that the crema is intact when the milk is poured, resulting in a better looking coffee.

I’ve got time for another coffee, so an espresso is in order. While waiting for it, I’d best mention the prices. This espresso is setting me back 500, while a latte goes for 550. Not really an Excelsior or Doutor price, but one that café patrons in Tokyo can expect if they’re after something made well. It would seem that tax isn’t included. The total is 1,102 yen.

The espresso has arrived, so let’s take a look. This is a single as well, and looks to have been quite a long pour. The crema isn’t really what you’d call great – there is a big hole in the middle. The first sip was ok, but the second starts hinting at some real bitterness. I can’t get any indication of the sweetness that a good espresso should have. After a bigger gulp towards the end, and the initial shock of that, the flavour does settle out a bit, but really it didn’t impress me as much as the latte did.

The Tokyo Apartment Café @ Harajuku – certainly worth a visit and a warming milky coffee.

The café itself has a very cool feeling to it – lots of dividing walls about the place so you feel you have your own little part of what is actually quite a big place. The music is cool, décor too. The drink menu is good, though not too extensive, and the food going past me to waiting patrons looks pretty good too. It’s easy to find, right on the corner of Omotesando-dori and Meiji-dori, or just past Softbank if you’re walking down the hill from Harajuku station.

Open 365 days a year. www.harajuku-ac.com 03-3401-4101.
Green Fantasia 1F, 1-11-11 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo.