17 January 2019

The Caffeine Chronicles: Omotesando Koffee

One of the high points of my first trip to Japan in 2014 was my visit to Omotesando Koffee, located, as you might expect, in the Omotesando district of Tokyo. I enjoyed the calm atmosphere, minimalist decor and the best macchiato of my trip. I had hoped to return some day and was sad to learn that it closed at the end of 2015, although there are sister cafes in Toranomon Hills, Tokyo; Singapore; and Hong Kong. There's also the related Tokyo beans specialist Koffee Mameya, which Brian of Brian's Coffee Spot has highlighted.

Unsurprisingly, I was delighted to hear that Omotesando would be adding a London coffee shop to its petite but perfectly formed posse. The new cafe opened in the dying days of 2018 in the sleek Rathbone Square development in Fitzrovia. I've visited twice now, managing to arrive both times — on Twixmas Friday afternoon and on a Saturday afternoon — during particularly busy periods with the queue stretching out of the door. Its location, not even a block north of Oxford Street, may have contributed to the crowds but it was great to see such a positive response to such a new coffee shop.

The minimalist design shares several Omotesando Koffee hallmarks, including the empty-cube-like structure preserving empty space above the coffee bar and the strong use of light wood and geometric lines. There are just a few seats — suspended stool seats perched at the window — and on both visits, many customers opt to take their drinks away rather than drink in.

Walking into the shop, you order and pay at the counter in front of the door, head to the bar with your receipt, which you hand to the barista, who then makes your drink. In this way, it's almost like being in an Italian espresso bar and yet this zen-like temple of coffee couldn't be more different. The charming, skilled baristas wear white lab coats and produce special drinks, such as the famed Omotesando iced cappuccino, alongside more traditional offerings.

On my first visit, I order a macchiato, for old time's sake, which is excellent, and when I return, I go for the hand-brewed filter coffee. The open structure of the coffee bar allows me to watch the expert preparation of my drinks and to chat to the barista. The coffee is roasted by Ogawa Coffee, a Japanese roaster I actually sampled at their Boston, MA, cafe, but the barista tells me that a new blend, roasted especially for Omotesando by London-based Assembly, is coming soon.

The beans for the filter coffee are stored in test tubes located at the end of the counter. I am invited to smell the beans before they are ground, and the barista tells me that coffees for the Japanese market are usually darker roasts, even in the speciality coffee space. I usually prefer lighter roasts, but brewed through a Kalita dripper, the Panama–Guatemala blend that I try is very well balanced and rich without being too overpowering. The subtle flavours come through very nicely as the coffee cools. Fortunately, I spy a spare seat at the window and leave my post on the corner of the counter to engage in some Fitzrovia people-watching.

They also serve kashi — cube-shaped custard pastries — but I've missed out on these so far, more's the pity. I plan to return soon to try the Assembly coffee, so I'll have to arrive earlier in the day to improve my odds of scoring a sweet treat. Omotesando is a wonderful and unusual addition to London's speciality coffee scene, this will be an absolute pleasure.

My photos of the original Omotesando Koffee, taken in 2014

Omotesando Koffee. Rathbone Square, Fitzrovia, London, W1J 5EZ (Tube: Tottenham Court Road). WebsiteInstagram.

For 100+ more of my favourite coffee shops in London, please check out my speciality coffee guide.

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