The only coffeehouse in Tokyo that serves Yemeni coffee, and only Yemeni coffee, is tucked away on a quiet street of Daikanyama. So, when we were in the area recently, we made a quick stop in to Mocha Coffee to get our caffeine fix.
Mocha Coffee is certainly not serving up tall nonfat mochas. Rather, “mocha coffee” is a term that describes coffee from Yemen. Historically, coffee was sold and exported through the Yemeni port city of Mocha on the western coast. Today, mocha coffee is still recognized as a high quality coffee due to the unique terroir of Yemen–a long dry season in mountainous regions with rich soils.
The shop is quite literally a sliver size of a place that is wedged in between two buildings. With all its walls and ceiling made of glass, the shop makes you feel as if you are in a cozy sunroom. On a sunny day, natural light floods into the shop, creating a photographer’s dream space. The narrow shop permits only a counter that seats about 5-6, and a few tables inside and out on the patio. Very intimate indeed, but not claustrophobic.
The owner is a Japanese woman who started the cafe years ago with her then-husband who is Yemeni. It’s apparent the owners are very passionate about introducing aspects of Yemeni culture through their shop. You’ll see Yemen guidebooks, photographs, pots and kettles, money, and foodstuffs displayed all over. Their focus however, is the coffee, and their coffee beans are sourced from different areas of Yemen. If you ask the owner, she will explain to you the different types of coffee beans and their taste profiles. Beans also for sale on their site.
I ordered a cup of the Kulani (¥950 or $7.95). Certainly on the steep end of what I like to pay for coffee, even for a good pour over. (My favorite being Sightglass Coffee in SF, at about $4.50 for a cup). Each cup is made to order: the beans are weighed, ground, and hot water is poured over the grounds through a cone dripper. The pour over method is an ideal way to make coffee as the physics of the setup is a good way of extracting the brighter notes in coffee without any unwanted bitterness. And minimal sediment at the bottom of the cup. It’s especially good for Arabic coffee varieties since these beans tend to carry more bright, high notes that are really pleasant.
Coffee is served in a dainty cup from the shop’s collection of eclectic vintage china teacups and saucers that would seem to fit in better in a tea parlor. The coffee itself had a beautiful spicy aroma and tasted of hints of cinnamon and chocolate (without the bitterness). The downside was that the coffee was not more full-bodied. Because a drip filter was used, this removed many desirable oils from the grounds, which produces a coffee with a lighter body. I think a lighter bodied coffee works just fine with some beans, but here, because this coffee inherently has a bolder flavor profile, I would have preferred something with a heavier mouthfeel to accentuate those flavors.
The Arabic coffee on the menu (¥1900 or $15.85) sounded interesting, brewed with saffron and cardamom. Bring a friend, because the portion is for 2 people.
The shop also serves up cakes to go with your coffee, from cheesecake to carrot cake to more exotic selections like the orange and pistachio cake that day (¥450 or $3.75 a slice). A non coffee drink that I saw several customers order was the made-to-order pomegranate soda which looked refreshing. Also available were jars of Yemeni honey for sale and dried dates to snack on.
A singular experience for sure, Mocha Coffee is an original and unique concept in Tokyo, and also to Daikanyama, where cafes like Starbucks down the road at T-site are more about the brand and lifestyle rather than the coffee. More customers there are plugged into their laptops than enjoying their cups of joe. Here at Mocha, for just a few minutes, you can unplug from the world, put away your phone, sip slowly, and recharge on some unique brews and sweet treats before hitting the pavement again.
As mentioned before, prices are noticeably on the expensive end for coffee. I certainly don’t make enough money to keep up with this kind of habit. However, for coffee lovers who enjoy trying more rare brews, this is definitely a stop to make.
Mocha Coffee, 25-1 Sarugakucho, Shibuya