A review of an independent coffeehouse, Chatei Hatou in Shibuya, Tokyo. Notes are by an amateur coffee enthusiast and shoestring digital nomad. Descriptions are equal parts coffee and remote-work suitability. Most photos are shot with a second-hand Fujifilm X100.
Located about a 5-minute walk from Shibuya Metro station, Chatei Hatou sits on a small slope flanked by restaurants with opaque entrances. Only the intentional patrons looking for its black wooden door would push it open.
The open space, with its long counter and L-shaped seating area, takes the first-time visitor aback. How can a place this big, and yet cozy, be sitting in the heart of Shibuya’s frenetic lights, crowds, and fashion boutiques? I’ve come on more than one occasion, and my advice for a digital nomad with time is to arrive right when it opens, preferably on a weekday just to experience the surreal tranquility of being the first patron.
This kissaten, Japanese coffeehouse, has a whiff of Hayao Miyazaki romanticism — perhaps because of the potted tree stretching its glorious branches in the cavernous space, or perhaps because of the rows of china along the shelves. Or perhaps it’s more like a living museum from the turn of the century with its rosewood display cases, lamps, and vintage LV suitcase casually on display.
For digital nomads and remote workers, this space is friendly. On more than one occasion, I’ve found professors with their papers spread on a corner table and a laptop sitting on a table with slides open and a deal to be closed. Even the scruffy students with noise cancelling headphones feel relaxed enough to leave their textbooks on the table as they type furiously away. I saw plugs in several corner spots, but be strategic with your seats!
But, let me move on to the coffee.
Frankly, kissaten coffee is usually only alright. Chatei Hatou has one drink that I come back specifically for: the aged coffee that requires 20 minutes to brew. You’ll see the process in the next few photos.
Counter to popular coffee literature about freshly roasted beans being consumed between 48-hours and 14 days of roasting, some schools of kissaten thought believe in intentionally aged coffee. Either way, Chatei Hatou’s resulting drink is virtually like an espresso — perhaps even stronger, but smoother and without the acidity.
To fully enjoy one, I would suggest taking a counter seat so you can watch the brewing process. Out of respect for the Master (barista), I would suggest not pulling out a laptop in front of him, although there is no explicit rule about it. Books are fine.
Aged coffee is made with a dribble of water that cannot be rushed, and a lot of beans.
The resulting aged coffee drink is about 1/2 the size of an ordinary blended coffee drink. Note also that Chatei Hatou has an extensive coffee menu, but the drinks I remember are the original blend and Vienna coffee (hot or iced).
Many patrons also like ordering the tea, as the name chatei actually means teahouse.
I’d also recommend trying coffee with a cake. Cake options include chiffon cake (cinnamon, matcha), rare cheese cake, squash pudding, and one time I had a banana chocolate cake as well. The simple desserts compliment the simple, dark and smokey coffee. Though brewed entirely differently, my closest comparison for kissaten coffee is burner coffee, mostly because it is often a dark roast, with very smokey flavours and smooth profile. Kissaten coffee is almost the opposite of the fruity, layered tea-like pour-over coffees more typical of Third-Wave cafes.
In addition to the counter, visitors can take a pic from 4 and 2 person tables as well as two oval tables. Even though the cafe fills up in the afternoons, the noise level remains at a lively ambience. Corner spots or seats behind displays are generally still quiet.
Note that this cafe is smoking-friendly and often will have an individual who enjoys lighting up a cigarette with his coffee.
Their Story / What I like About Them:
Unfortunately, the top Google search results for Chatei Hatou in English and Japanese return association to Blue Bottle Coffee’s James Freeman, who credits the kissaten for inspiring his brand of coffee over twenty years ago. I’m glad I didn’t know about this association when I first tried this place and was free of expectations.
Instead, I just enjoyed scanning the display cases, watching the patrons, and noting down brewing techniques from the Master, Taguchi-san, with his immaculate white shirt and pinned tie.
Fortunately, many of the details that create Chatei Hatou’s immediate charm are typical of higher-end kissaten. Teijimaya Coffee, one of my favourites at Shinjuku’s Omoideyokocho (Yakitori Alley), also has a polished wooden interior, an extensive china collection, and a curated collection of heritage display items. So what makes Chatei Hatou worth returning to in a city with an endless list of cafes to visit?
Some people may point to the extensive menu. Some will describe the artful preparation of each individual drink item, which may require just water, or pre-iced coffee, or cream, or smashed ice.
I think what keeps me returning is the transparency. When I arrive a few minutes early, the staff let me in anyway as they go about their final preparations. In the morning hours, the professionalism is most apparent. As the only guest who is in no visible rush, the staff do their tasks without pretense. I watch as their eyes occasionally furrow with concentration at smoothing out a cake, but more often with I see their relaxed focus they take out items and put away others to speed up serving time without compromising drink quality.
Small moments like these define Chatei Hatou for me: just another coffeehouse. It just happens to be a great one.
- Coffee: Pour over (their specialty is aged coffee)
- Food: Pastries, cakes
- Cafe Space: About 40 seats. Smoking friendly.
- Friends: Hangouts, catching up, readings
- Workspace: counter table, big group round table, individual tables
- Remote Work: Bring your own pocket WiFi, plugs available
|Address:||〒 150-0002 東京都渋谷区渋谷1-15-19
1 Chome-15-19 Shibuya, Shibuya, Tokyo
|Daily: 11:00-23:00 月〜日|
If you liked this post, check out my list of Off-Centre Tokyo Cafes.