I am a firm believer in starting the day right with a cup of coffee. So, wherever I travel, I always make a point to suss out where the good coffee is. But good coffee alone won’t carry the day. What I am ultimately interested in are the coffeehouses that also have a distinct sense of self, and with a story to tell, which always seems to start with “I first fell in love with coffee when...”
I try to find spots that are dedicated to bringing fresh, quality beans direct to customers, whether it be sourcing from the origin, roasting in-house, or both, and showing customers the potential of good coffee. There’s no denying the true pleasure of sipping a cup of coffee that has been skillfully prepared. It’s also during this time I can be a voyeur. Sitting in a café allows me to observe and take in the surroundings. Watching and listening helps me to understand a bit about the rhythms of local life.
When I first found that I would be traveling to Fukuoka, I had no idea that the local coffee culture would be so rich and developed, as I soon found out. Cup after amazing cup consumed, I kept finding more and more cafes to try with the more people I talked to. Despite time as my limiting factor, I tried a good mixture of places–ones I had researched, others recommended from locals during my trip, and some I simply stumbled upon serendipitously. And what I’ve found is this: Fukuokans take their coffee seriously. For coffee lovers, there has never been a better time to get a cup in Fukuoka. Here are some of my favorites:
In the front window at San Sui Mizudashi, the shop has set up a specialized drip coffee system, something straight out of a chemistry lab, comprising a series of glass containers with coffee slowly dripping into each one. San Sui specializes in what it calls Dutch Coffee (dachi kohi). The Dutch coffee extraction process uses natural underground water collected from Wakasugiya Mountain (from Sasaguri town, to the east of Fukuoka city) to slow-drip over coffee grounds, which extracts a smooth and clean tasting coffee. The drip process can take up to ten hours. The extracted coffee is then served hot or iced.
Founded in 1934, Cafe Brasileiro is the oldest cafe in Fukuoka. Coffee houses began appearing in old Fukuoka during the Taisho period (1912-1926) and continued to be popular until the early Showa period (1926-1989). Many of that era’s intellectuals and literati frequented these coffee houses and Cafe Brasileiro was a popular meeting place. Novelist Ashihei Hino and poet Kitahara Hakushu were regulars here. Even today, walking in here is like going back in time. The retro furnishings and wall art, not to mention the coffee roasting equipment and serving ware, are straight from another era.
The current man in charge is a second-generation owner; his father established the cafe originally. He’s passionate about coffee and roasts 6 types in-house. These are served hot and black, with a side carafe of lightly whipped cream and simple syrup.
The artisanal coffee culture in Fukuoka has grown tremendously over the last few years. Rec Coffee’s co-founder and owner, Yoshikazu Iwase, the winner of the 2015 Japanese Barista Champion, put Rec Coffee on the coffee map. Iwase sources out and buys the best beans from coffee plantations around the world, many of which are single origin. The beans are roasted locally in Fukuoka, and used fresh for the coffee drinks at Rec, which include black, French-press coffee, and espresso drinks. The quality and craftsmanship is evident in the flavor, aroma, and presentation. Don’t leave without trying a cappuccino–full-bodied and rich, with an exquisite layer of micro-foam that is light, yet creamy.
Manu is one of the best-known coffee houses in Fukuoka, for its artisanal, locally-roasted beans, and espresso drinks, which are artfully served in double-wall, insulated, glass espresso cups. Try a cappuccino, which is poured table-side by the barista, and watch as she masterfully flicks her wrist to create the perfect foam art. All aesthetics aside, the coffee itself is wonderfully bold and smooth, filling your nose and mouth with its full-bodied aroma. The steamed milk adds another pleasant level of richness.
Here, the crowd is young, on-trend, slightly alternative, with laptops glued to their hands. The environment is relaxed, with a chill indie playlist softly playing in the background.
Honey Coffee is one of the most respected coffee houses in Fukuoka due to its quality of beans, sourced from highly ranked batches each year. Owner Katsuhide Izaki was a pioneering force in establishing a consistent wholesale stream of high quality beans from coffee plantations around the world to Fukuoka. Every year, several of these batches that he bids on, and successfully purchases, are winners of the Cup of Excellence (COE) Award. Honey Coffee has several coffee house locations around Fukuoka. This shop, affectionately called “Little Honey,” primarily serves commuters on the go.
For brewed coffee purists, try a cup of French press using COE award beans, and for espresso enthusiasts, a cappuccino here will quickly become a top contender for the best cappuccino you’ll ever have. Bold and smooth, each pull of espresso yields a creamy crema topping. Just around the corner from Little Honey is Honey Coffee’s more traditional kissaten, Café Miel, which serves up only French press, siphon, and drip coffees.
Kuroneko Coffee, or Black Cat Coffee, is a kissaten–a traditional Japanese coffee house. Stepping inside is like stepping into a bygone era. Rich, dark wood furnishings, low, mellow lighting emanate from stained glass lamps, and kitschy knick-knacks from decades past line shelves. This is the kind of coffee house where time slows, and coffee means a cup of dark, black brew made from aged beans. Owner Yoshida Takuhisashi personally sources and roasts the beans used here. Take a seat at the counter and watch Yoshida-san meticulously prepare coffee in a vintage siphon coffee maker. From a shelf of dainty, antique tea cups and saucers, he carefully selects one for the customer. The thoughtfulness and consideration he puts into the preparation is something that is quite rare nowadays.
First opened in 1978, Rankan Coffee is a long-established, family-owned, traditional Japanese coffeehouse in Dazaifu, Fukuoka. Currently owned and run by Junko Tahara and her son, Rankan was first opened by her husband who has since passed. She has successfully kept the cafe running ever since, as a dedication to the memory of her late husband. Stepping inside is like transporting to another decade, from the moss green velvet cushioned booths, the original wood countertop from when the cafe first opened, to the aging photos on the wall.
As with most traditional kissaten, a cup of coffee at Rankan takes time to make. The cafe boasts an extensive selection of beans, roasted on site. Each cup of coffee is made to order with great care, many of which, by Tahara’s son Terukiyo Tahara, who won the Japan Cup Tasters Championship in 2015. Try a drip coffee from one of the several types of beans of blends, single-origin, and COE (Cup of Excellence) award winning beans.
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Woke up early to see the mist on Lake Kinrin? Maybe coffee will help wake you up! Right next to the lake is straight-to-the-point specialty cafe, ’Croissant and Coffee Shop. Croissant and Coffee Shop is not only a beautifully-designed crook of the neck cafe but serves some of the best coffee ice-cream we’ve ever tried!