Paddlers Coffee has made a name for itself as a local institution, and for good reason. Paddlers is one of only a few shops that exclusively sources quality Stumptown beans in Tokyo and knows how to brew them well! Add to that the mellow atmosphere (a welcome respite in the busy Shibuya district) and jovial personality of the baristas and you have an unrivaled “neighborhood spot.”
I first encountered Paddlers in 2013 when they were still at their original location in Yoyogi near Sangubashi Eki. A friend of mine and I wanted something that reminded us of home. We chose Paddlers because they carried Stumptown beans and received rave reviews. Unfortunately, they were closed by the time we arrived and I returned to the US the following day. We did, however, score some killer bread from the bakery in the adjoining retail space.
Fast-forward to Summer 2014. My friend Hajime recommended a shop his friend owned in Shibuya. I trusted his advice both because he is a neighborhood local and a guy with great taste. I find the best recommendations for coffee, whether you are on travel or new to an area, come from word of mouth. I am a bit fastidious when it comes to the “type” of shops I visit, the brew methods they use, the attitude of the staff, etc. I value the experience holistically and want a “good return” on my $5 coffee investment. Having a friend or someone who frequents local establishments generally gives 0ne a biased yet relatively well-informed perspectives of the coffee scene.
When we arrived, Hajime’s friend Daisuke greeted me warmly. After a short chat I realized this was the second iteration of the same Paddlers I visited the year prior. The shop has since relocated a third time to the neighborhood just south of Meiji-Jingu-Mae station, but this review will focus on the second location. Since the best characteristics of Paddlers are embodied in the staff, they should transfer over.
Daisuke reveres the importance of aesthetics. I was immediately struck by the charm and intimacy of the space: the lighting, decor, and atmosphere of the store begs aficionados to seat themselves at the bar right in front of the action. This dynamic (relationship perhaps) between customer and craftsman, if I may generalize, is one of my favorite aspects of Japanese service. Some of my fondest memories overseas are of enjoying a good meal while engaged in deep-discussion with the individuals behind the counter of some little 5-seat restaurant late into the evening. As a coffee boutique, Paddlers captures this characteristic perfectly. I try endlessly to convey this “feeling” in many of my reviews but in all honesty it is a something that must be experienced rather than spoken about.
Paddlers imports their beans directly from Stumptown, ensuring the highest quality and up-to-date stock. One might be hesitant given the time it takes to go from seed to cup and between roasting, packing, shipping, and finally brewing half a world away. Customers might also be concerned about Paddlers’ ability to source good beans. Rest assured, Paddlers has a very direct relationship with Stumpdown. Daisuke personally travels to the Portland to cup and chose their coffee which is more than I can say for many of the shops that source from high end roasters in the contiguous United States! Talk about dedication to the craft. He rotates the stock regularly and has an expedited system set up to ensure the beans are promptly shipped from Narita to the store.
This meticulous concern for quality is not only evident in the sourcing. Not only are Paddlers baristas exceedingly well-informed about the attributes of Stumptown coffee, they also take great care in the brewing process and presentation. On my visit, Daisuke prepared a cold brew and a fresh Chemex using the Able-Brewing Kone for my friend and me. Suspend your reservations about metal filter brewed coffee, I have had some absolutely incredible cups done on the Kone. I sipped on an incredible cup of Stumptown brew, enjoyed the Shibuya neighborhood, and had a great conversation with folks who care an enormously about the craft of coffee. I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to my forty-day excursion.
Paddlers is not a flashy over-the-top “hip” joint, nor is it a place for the “casual” consumer. It is not trend setting, but it notable in its own right. Paddlers is a place for people who appreciate serious coffee and folks who are culinary artists and craftsmen. You do not have to be an aficionado to appreciate what they have to offer, but there are plenty of alternatives for those who want something non-traditional. Please visit the new location in Shibuya (information below)
What I liked:
- Decor and atmosphere
- Stumptown half-a-world away
- Barista/Customer dynamic
- Very loyal base of regulars