A sign with a small bright-cerulean-blue bottle on it and an arrow pointing up a staircase. No name plate. Just a sign that could be easily missed. And that's probably the way Blue Bottle Coffee wants it.
As we walk up the unimpressive white stair case and open the glass door, we enter an open-air coffee emporium. With a tall ceiling and wall-length windows adding to that openness, you'll see busy workers in blue and customers sipping and chatting, but most of all, you see yourself instantly a part of it all. That's, without a doubt, also how they want it.
Tucked away in a discreet alley in Aoyama is Blue Bottle Coffee. Near Omotesando Station, the cafe is 2,000 square feet, with an outdoor area overlooking a lush garden. It's well known to have lines out the door from its surging popularity, but I went on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Having started in Oakland, Calif., about 10 years ago, the cafe now has three locations in Japan. The others are in Tokyo's Kiyosumi and Shinjuku.
On the menu are all the favorites: drip coffee, iced coffee, espresso and sweet and savory treats, to name a few. While the menu has plenty of delicious-looking food options, we were simply there for coffee. With a drip coffee and the espresso special of the day, the bill came to just over 1,000 yen. We watched the barista, dressed in a dramatic black fedora and dark blue apron, carefully brew the coffee, living up to the business creator's promise to "sell coffee less than 48 hours out of the roaster," according to the company's website.
After a 5-minute wait, the barista calls us up by name, pours the coffee gently but with obvious concentration, wishes us well (in English) and sends us on our way. We sip while standing in the outdoor patio, discussing design trends and noticing the understated tranquility of the spot within such a bustling area.
The taste -- dark, smooth and rich -- is not for those who prefer dressing up the drink with mounds of sugar or seasonal flavors. This was coffee; and it wasn't apologizing for being so. Those who venture to Blue Bottle won't ask it to.
Blue Bottle Coffee is about a 3-minute walk from Omotesando Station. Coming from Tokyo Station, use the Chiyoda Subway line toward Meijijingu-Mae (各停). Look for the sign with a blue bottle!