A Quest for the Best Coffee in Japan: Yonezawa Cafe

Before I moved to rural Japan, I knew that I would have to make peace with sacrificing a few home comforts. Central heating, for example. However, I never really contemplated that a really good cup of coffee would be one of them.

Living out in the countryside in the north of Japan has many advantages, but an abundance of excellent coffee shops, sadly, is not one of them. Thus started mine, and my friend Rob’s, quest to find a coffee shop that would satisfy our need for quality caffeination.

I wasn’t looking for the BEST cup of coffee in Japan, just half way decent was my low goal!

We hope our reports will help inform and guide those who venture bravely into Japan’s less traversed areas. As well as providing a glimpse into Japan for those interested in the world beyond Tokyo and Kyoto.

Our first stop was at a small cafe called, カフェ蓮桜 , a small cafe in the city of Yonezawa. Where I will hand you over to Rob. . .

A Cafe In Yonezawa (with the Best Coffee in Japan?!)

Coffee shop in Yonezawa

To be truthful, this was our second visit to this cafe. The first time Sarah made the understandable error of trying to ward off the freezing cold with a hot chocolate. However, after seeing the promising cappuccino, we decided to visit a second time.

Naturally, Sarah got the same drink as me, eager to understand the balance achieved between the bitterness of the coffee and the richness of the cream. The cappuccino comes in a “chawan”, which is a traditional Japanese “tea bowl” more commonly used in the tea ceremony. It’s served alongside a tiny biscuit, which appeared to be comprised mostly of sugar, which contrasted the bitter coffee excellently. All this is served to you on a Japanese lacquerware tray.

The best coffee in Japan
The best coffee in Japan?

Although provided with a single use plastic cup of cream, the coffee is already adequately combined with cream; floating serenely in the middle of the bowl, topped with either cocoa or cinnamon powder. On both occasions, the coffee has been subtly bitter, the initial wave of coffee is followed almost reluctantly by a soothing creaminess, enough to make me forget I had given up dairy. A fan of bitter, real coffee, can find plenty to enjoy here, but you must be prepared to work out how to tackle the “wabi-sabi” island of cream; whether you enjoy it with the coffee or use the spoon provided, which turns this drink almost into a dessert.

The price is most agreeable, and the size feels more at home in a European cafe rather than alongside the smaller servings found in Japan, although there is only one size. The option to have it cold is available.

The cafe itself is a wonderful little building, being airy and bright in the spring/summer, but being cozy and warm in the winter. The windows are shuttered, and the decor is elegantly dark and tasteful. With comfortable chairs and attentive staff, it’s a wonder I ever left

As Japan’s coffee places tend to serve drip coffee rather than espresso based coffee, this little cafe in Yonezawa is a must visit, and it’s located conveniently near the castle ruins, perfect for a visit when you come to see the snow lantern festival in winter.

A coffee shop in Yonezawa

The cafe also boast a charming little gift shop off to one side with various knick knacks for inspection. Although perhaps nothing compelling enough to inspire a purchase, diverting enough to waste a few minutes while awaiting your coffee.

Sarah – I’m gonna slid in here and say the hot chocolate was pretty amazing too, definitely the best one I have had in a while . . . I had an amazing one somewhere in Bath once, that I still dream about. . .

The Area

The first time we visited this cafe, it was in the depths of Japanese winter. We found the cafe while heading to the Yonezawa Snow Lantern Festival. Most cities have their own lantern festival, but Yonezawa is one of the biggest in the Yamagata Prefecture. If you happen to be in the area I recommend visiting.

A walk around the snow festival.

As with most festivals there is plenty of street food to be had, including traditional foods such as okonomiyaki (like a big savoury, fried pancake), yaki soba, yaki niku (fried meats), as well as fried chicken and chocolate covered bananas.

Festival Chocolate Banana
Is it even a festival is there isn’t a chocolate banana?