Blue Bottle in Aoyama felt like walking into an apple store. The simple furniture looked sleek, the natural light made everything look magical, and they even used ipads for everything. But what Blue Bottle has and the apple store doesn't is the smell of amazing coffee. Apple may have a gold watch but I bet they can't innovate anything that smells better than coffee. I first heard about Blue Bottle from a friend who recommended them to me 4 years ago, right around the time when I was really getting interested in coffee. To put things in perspective, that was around the time the iphone 4 was "the new iphone". A lot has happened during those 4 years (I have moved from Michigan to Cambodia to Korea) but a few weeks ago while I was visiting my family in Japan, I finally got the chance to visit Blue Bottle.
I hope to visit Blue Bottle in the US sometime so I can compare the two but I think its really interesting that the first country they expanded to was Japan. I'm sure the fact that Blue Bottle and Japan both thrive on similar values helped in this respect. They both put a strong emphasis on quality, they think about the customers needs first and they have an unwavering respect for the process. Blue Bottle has a really interesting history which you can read here, but I really admire what they stand for. When Blue Bottle was started, the founder vowed to only use responsibly sourced beans and to only sell coffee less than 48 hours out of the roaster. This is something they continue to this day and is a big reason people keep coming back for their coffee and beans.
The Aoyama cafe has plenty of seating and open areas to enjoy coffee in but its not the sort of place you would want to cram for an exam or do your taxes. The focus is on the coffee and enjoying the coffee in their space, and maybe for this reason they don't provide wifi. I didn't get to stay very long and I only tried their latte (500 yen) but it was one of the best I've had. Flavor wise it was pretty similar to the one at The Pancake Epidemic Seoul, and its not surprising since Stumptown and Blue Bottle are both excellent roasters.
I really enjoyed the interaction and warmth at the cafe, as it made me feel like I was involved in the process of getting my coffee. Everything is visible behind the counter and the staff are all really friendly. They give recommendations and encourage customers to take pictures, which was a nice change from the dirty looks I sometimes get while taking pictures inside other cafes (Hey, its free advertising!). Friendliness really factors into how I view a cafe. I've been to cafes that serve really good coffee but fail to smile or be friendly in anyway and that takes away from the experience.
If you are intimidated by specialty coffee and don't know where to begin, I think Blue Bottle would be a good place to start. Specialty coffee is often associated with hipsters and coffee snobs, but its more about drinking good coffee and knowing where and how the beans were produced. A lot of the bigger franchises focus on quantity while these independent roasters focus on quality. Cafes like Blue Bottle may be a little more expensive but they are paying their farmers fairly, roasting the beans to perfection and respecting the process. Check out Blue Bottle if you are ever in the US or Japan.
*Apologies for the picture quality. I only had my iphone 4.
More information on their locations and hours can be found here: https://bluebottlecoffee.com/cafes/aoyama