When it comes to cafes and coffee shops, there are more than a few choices in Japan. In addition to the mom and pop shops and the huge international chains, there are also a handful of unique Japanese chains to choose from, each with its own characteristics.
St. Marc Cafe (san-maruku cafe) is one of my favorites. It's a little higher scale than many of its competitors, and its prices are a bit higher, but you definitely get the value you're paying for. St. Marc has a chain of cafe / coffee shops, but also operates a separate chain of bakeries and restaurants. The bakeries supply the coffee shops with perhaps the best sweets and pastries found in any of the large cafe chains around Japan.
The signature food item here is the ChocoCro - a shortened name for a chocolate croissant. This delicious treat is made from a blend of beans from Ecuador and Ghana, and wrapped in croissant dough. There are also seasonal flavors. The ChocoCro was invented in the chain's second-ever location, the Shibuya-Inokashira Street shop, and has become a famous mainstay ever since. A visit to a St. Marc Cafe will yield a whole counter-full of incredible baked goods, each one better than the next: Danishes, paninis, French toast, and dozens of unique creations. These are available for take-out as well. There are plenty of dessert options as well - huge ice cream creations that make you drool just walking by.
All this talk about food isn't to undercut the drinks, however. St. Marc Cafe offers a wide menu of drink options, and goes beyond the simple basics. The drink menu includes a wide variety of high-quality choices, such as an Italian cappuccino, yuzu tea, grated apple lemonade, Vietnamese coffee, and the Osaka Mix Juice (a smoothie-like blend of several different fruits).
As far as decor, St. Marc Cafe locations are pretty standardized, and comparable to many other cafes. There is counter seating for solo coffee drinkers, and small tables for groups. Also, many St. Marc Cafe locations provide electric outlets for customer use, which is a rare luxury in Japan.
The first St. Marc Cafe opened in 1998, in Ginza, Tokyo. Today there are more than 300 cafe locations across Japan. The chain has expanded internationally, as well, including shops in the Philippines and Singapore. Menus are typically written in both English and Japanese.
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