What is Japan’s “Town of Art and Coffee” and how did it all begin? | The Cream of the Crop Coffee

Did you know that Japan ranks an impressive third in the world, by country, for the total amount of coffee consumed? It’s no wonder then that Japan boasts a vibrant and thriving coffee culture, with an abundance of unique and exceptional coffee shops waiting to be discovered.

At the epicenter of Tokyo’s thriving coffee culture lies the charming neighborhood of Kiyosumi Shirakawa in Koto City. This bustling district has become a mecca for coffee aficionados and has earned itself the fitting title of “The Town of Art and Coffee.”

To get to the heart of this unique coffee culture, we knew we had to explore The Cream of the Crop Coffee, the first coffee shop to open in the area back in 2012. This innovative establishment ignited the coffee revolution that has since taken hold in Kiyosumi Shirakawa, which led to a plethora of world-renowned coffee shops sprouting up over the past few years.

Not just a coffee shop, but a coffee factory

Nestled along the tranquil Oyoko River, The Cream of the Crop Coffee is a bit off the beaten path. However, you can easily find it by keeping an eye out for the cute puppy logo on its industrial facade. The unassuming warehouse exterior blends in with the neighborhood surroundings, but as soon as you step inside, you are transported to another world.

As soon as you step inside, you’ll be greeted by the sight of a towering, full-scale roasting machine that almost touches the vaulted ceiling. Being able to see behind the scenes at a roasting factory is a unique experience that customers don’t often get to have at a normal coffee shop.

Only the finest beans are selected and roasted on-site in the roastery, and the air is thick with the sweet aroma of freshly roasted coffee.

Picking up a bag of freshly roasted beans or a cup of coffee is only part of the full experience of visiting the shop. You are able to see the process that goes into making a cup of coffee, from the rhythmic hum of the coffee roaster to waiting for the beans to be ground and the coffee slowly dripped by hand.

Every step of the coffee-making process is perfected to deliver the best flavor the beans have to offer. Since each cup is hand-dripped with the utmost care, it takes some time, but the wait is well worth it. Even in a Café au Lait, the coffee itself shines, with a robust aromatic flavor that complements the creaminess of the milk perfectly.

The team at The Cream of the Crop Coffee isn’t just passionate about the taste of their coffee—they’re also dedicated to caring for the planet. To honor the beans as a “gift from the earth,” the cups the coffee is served in are made of eco-friendly materials.

Why Kiyosumi Shirakawa?

Kiyosumi Shirakawa’s rich history is as captivating as the coffee it is now famous for. The canals that criss-cross the area were once bustling with industry and commerce during the Edo period. Times have changed since then and the canals are no longer used for shipping. The riverside is now quieter, making it ideal for an afternoon stroll, and the area has come to life in a new way.

In this historic neighborhood, the Cream of the Crop Coffee found a home in an old, renovated warehouse, discovered by the visionary owner Takeshi Tajima. Tajima searched high and low for the perfect building with a high ceiling to house a full-scale roaster, and when he stumbled upon the warehouse, he knew it was ideal. The riverbank position also allows for the smoke from the roaster to be released on the canal side, causing little impact on the neighborhood. Tajima knew that it was a perfect location for a coffee roasterie.

The town is also a major creative hub, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and a plethora of private galleries are all within a few minutes’ walk. With a cup of coffee in hand, you can stroll from gallery to gallery, admiring the stunning artwork on display, and maybe stretch your legs in lovely Kiba Park just around the corner.

In recent years, many world-renowned roasteries have flocked to this neighborhood, and its reputation as “The Town of Art and Coffee,” has continued to grow.

Tajima’s vision: Bringing the world’s finest to Japan

The owner, Tajima, is an icon in the import industry, known for introducing a variety of foreign brands such as Sergio Rossi, John Lobb, and Pierre Marcolini to Japan since the 1980s.

The consistent theme in his work is “discovering and sharing the best the world has made.” The company name, The Cream of The Crop and Company, comes from this idea.

This vision is carried through to coffee and Tajima’s passion for sourcing the finest beans. He believes that the pursuit of excellence is not just a business strategy but rather a personal mission.

Tajima’s philosophy on success is refreshing in a world where profits often trump passion. He chooses to focus on products that he personally likes, believing that the spark of creativity and love in every object can be felt by those who use it, which is evident in the carefully selected beans he roasts in-house.

Last fall, the company launched U1R, a skincare brand that not only cares for humans but also the planet. The brand’s theme is “Save the Orangutans,” with the mission to preserve the oil palm forests where they call home. The first product in the lineup is a soap made without any palm oil to ensure the safety of the orangutans’ habitat. One of the favorites is a soap infused with ground coffee that was roasted right at the shop, which produces a delightful aroma when used. U1R can be purchased online or at the weekend pop-up shop at the roastery.

U1R Online Shop https://u1randc.jp

In the neighborhood community, The Cream of the Crop Coffee is a welcoming hub with a diverse crowd of visitors. On weekends, you’ll come across young art lovers gathering to exchange opinions on the latest exhibitions at nearby galleries, and during the week, locals stop by to grab a cup of their favorite roast and relax at the outdoor bench table.

As we interviewed Tajima, a regular customer came in to pick up his usual order of coffee beans. He warmly chatted with the roasterie staff about the latest happenings in the neighborhood before heading out. It’s also these genuine interactions that make The Cream of the Crop Coffee a special place.

Along the riverside in the heart of Kiyosumi-Shirakawa, The Cream of the Crop Coffee is a fantastic spot for coffee lovers visiting Tokyo. Don’t miss out on this hidden gem!

The Cream of The Crop Coffee Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Roaster
4 Chome-5-4 Shirakawa, Koto City, Tokyo 135-0021
Hours: 10:00~18:00 / Closed on Mondays


Orie Ishikawa

ZEROMILE lead editor. With a limitless curiosity about things such as history, literature, biology, culture, art, fashion, and more, Orie has spent most of her lifetime studying random knowledge. Her number one spot in Tokyo is the National Museum of Nature and Science.