Identity is a high-end boutique coffee shop in the heart of Harajuku. Newer to the scene, they bring tried-and-true tactics to the bar with an overall great approach to the craft. Not only are they offering top quality espressos and pour-over coffees but they are also an exemplar of Japanese (hesitant to essentialize) service.
Foremost, Identity is a great space. In a world-class city where space is a luxury and things are always bustling, finding a relaxing cafe can be a bit of a challenge. Most of the local spots I frequented in central Japan had a nice “worn in feeling” which could be described as “divy” (well, maybe “homey” is a nice word). Places that were modern and sleek tended to be either a) in a price range I was unwilling to pay or b) corporate coffee shops that had genuinely subpar coffee by any standard. Most coffee shops aren’t going for speciality coffee in the way most of us are used to.
But Identity has that “local spot” feeling and it a modern space. There is lots of light, good energy, great aestherics and a very deliberately designed decor. Fits the atmosphere of the store equally well. A lot of thought went into the motif, spatial arrangements, and color scheme of Identity, not to mention the bar.
I was most blown away by the staff and service. My Japanese is not great, I can hold a conversation for very short periods before English starts to creep back in. The baristas were patient enough to let me to explain the website, what my stake in coffee is, and why I was so excited to visit their space. Soon, the owner and I began chatting away about beans, techniques and machinery. He and the other staff were both knowledgeable and hospitable; they could roll with some of the better shops in the US and they do it with such class and tact. While I have already used this word to describe other coffee shops in Japan, I think kodawari （こだわり）fits rather perfectly: professional, fastidious, and dedicated to good work.
What ironically drew me into a buying frenzy (my first bill was about $20 for my friend and I, little on the pricey side) was the choice of beans from some of the top US roasters. At first, I thought, “how the heck can they keep these things fresh? Either they shipped them via boat which is a 2-3 week voyage and then they are kaput for freshness, or maybe they ship it by air which, if it were overnight, is going to make these things really expensive!” My trepidation, however, was unwarranted. The beans were fresh, appropriately priced, and carefully selected from both Intelligentsia and Handsome (one of my very favorites). 店長 and I got into fanboy mode talking about how much we liked Handsome as he had just come back from a visit to the LA store. With great beans was also great equipment, a fully equipped bar, and of course, tried and true espresso and pour over techniques.
With Identity being very “internationally” rather than domesticly focused, some might see this place as a straight transplant of a US style coffee shop in Japan and write it off. Or, since most coffee afficionados are probably dying for something like home when they are halfway across the world (cue Kyle Abbot), it might be a welcomed sight. I would, however, hesitate to call this place a direct transplant; it has US beans, yes, but you also are there for great service and the space. Moreover, I found they tend to pull their espressos and brew their coffees on the lighter side (dare I say, “Japanese style”) which does make it slightly different. Plus, at the end of the day, beans are beans, and they do an excellent job. I guess it would have been nice for them to brew up something domestic, but there are other good cafes in Tokyo who are doing just that.
Hands down, Identity makes a fantastic product by any standard. My cap was truly “textbook.” The flavor was outstanding and chocolatey, a little light on the espresso which made it very smooth yet not overly milky, it had a great velvety body, and the art was superb. I really could not have asked for a better flavored, textured, and balanced drink. My colleagues pour over was also fantastic. Little on the pricey side, but well worth it.
While Identity may be following a “tried and true” method, I think what really sets them apart is how well they are able to do the all fundamental elements of coffee (product, service, and execution). Sure, it largely emulates “American third-wave” style and even uses the very same beans. But the “foreign” coffee elements have been very well integrated with Japanese service. Not only are they putting out top notch products but are doing it with an unparalleled level of professionalism.
What I liked:
- Service and knowledge
- Location and great space
- Outstanding, textbook caps
Identity Cafe 1F Ares Garden Omotesando, 4-28-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 東京部渋谷く神宮前４－２８－４、アレスガｰテン表参道１F ０３－６８０４－３５７３