starbucks popup harajuku

When it comes to coffee, Starbucks has never been my first choice; aside from the taste of the house blend, I can’t get to grips with the oversized ceramic mugs, plastic ’grande’ iced-coffee containers and ’frappuccino’ style tea and coffee based drinks.

But if there’s one thing Starbucks do better than any other cafe chain – in Japan at least – it’s to provide a great customer experience.

In urban Tokyo and Yokohama, ’Sta-ba’ has branded itself into the local consciousness: Cafes can be found all over town, from the ground floor lobbies of high-rise office towers to the upper floors of the fashion malls, the concourse levels of major train stations and airports to the back streets of many of the commercial centers. In fact, there are close to a thousand Starbucks cafes in Japan. Armed with your prepaid Starbucks coffee card, you’re unlikely to ever be wanting for your favorite beverage.

In recent years, smokers in Tokyo have been been doing it relatively tough as more regulations ban smoking in ever-more places. Starbucks has always provided smoke-free cafes, and these spaces tend to come with comfortable seating and lighting, complimentary wi-fi and power outlets for your cell phone or lap-top. Together with typically Japanese courteous, efficient service, these are great places to take a break or catch up on some work or study, which is exactly what many Tokyoites do.

A number of Starbucks branches also come with outdoor deck seating for the true ’dolce vita’ experience – something that is not that common here, most locals preferring the comforts of air-conditioning. The sweetest example of this is the landscaped rooftop deck of the Tokyu Plaza building in Harajuku.

Starbucks Tokyu Plaza Omotesando

In terms of experience, it looks as if the company have outdone themselves with their latest Harajuku cafe, the temporary pop-up cafe, Starbucks Espresso Journey.

Oki Sato of Nendo has conceived for the coffee company a bookstore/library metaphor in an effort to create one of his signature ’!’ moments. Ordering a coffee becomes an playful, theatrical experience that involves the perusal and selection of a coffee hued ’book’ from one of the bookcase lined, curved walls, which is swapped for a corresponding coffee by the baristas. There are, arranged in clusters that graduate from light to dark, nine shades of book cover, one for each of the nine coffees available: Double Shot Latte, Soy Latte, Cafe Americano and so on.

On a second level are some seats and promotional items on sale, while staff explain the finer points of Starbucks coffee to the customers.

Starbucks Espresso Journey is located off Omotesando, behind the Gyre Building, and is open until September 30.

Starbucks Espresso Journey Pop-up Store