When I was a child, my mother didn’t hesitate to drag me along on her shopping sprees, and if she managed to find some bargains, she would celebrate (and reward my good behavior) by treating me to something sweet at the department store coffee shop.
There were no malls then, and shopping at department stores was somewhat of an “upscale experience,” with people dressing up just for the occasion. This made it particularly thrilling to relax with the adults and have a very grown-up drink like coffee.
Those days are long gone, but the recently revamped Daimaru department store in Tokyo Station has decided to “reward” all us adult children by opening a new cozy corner for coffee called simply Books & Cafe.
After a long day foraging for red-tag specials, you can kick back and reflect on purchases well made by enjoying Books & Cafe’s 18 varieties of straight and blend coffees in the reasonable 350-500 yen price range. To complement your brew, five varieties each of sugar and milk are offered, enabling you to sample myriad combinations till you hit the jackpot.
More importantly, Books & Cafe, jointly financed by Daimaru, Sansei-do (one of the largest bookstores in Japan) and UCC (Ueshima Coffee Company), allows customers to enjoy the latest in print while nursing, say, an Ethiopian Mocha or European Blend, all with no time limits, no smoking, no cell phones and no (bookshop) purchase necessary.
Modeled after the successful Barnes & Noble/Starbucks concept in the U.S., Books & Cafe allows its customers to browse over 180,000 books and periodicals (there is a small, but well-stocked English corner) in a huge space that includes several rest centers. It’s easy to select the latest best seller, sit down and have a cuppa when the browsing gets tough.
For coffee aficionados, there are numerous shelves, corner displays and kiosks with a mind-boggling array of books, magazines and guides on international coffee, elegant coffee, home party coffee, etc. If you can’t find what you want, the attentive staff will assist you at either of two computer stations where you are sure to find more than one glossy journal on how to properly foam your milk and sprinkle your cinnamon.
Of course, there is also the ubiquitous coffee-store gift corner where you can assemble your own special Christmas variety pack from the selection of original goods and single servings of the many coffees offered.
Although there are no designer coffees available — lattes, espressos, cappuccinos — Books & Cafe employs an innovative method of brewing coffee that is chic enough to keep Tokyo’s trend-watchers well entertained. Siphon coffee makers, specially created by Ushio Electric Co. and UCC, employ halogen bulbs that boil the water, which then percolates into tiny gold-colored glass globes. The visual result is a soft and soothing glow. (Spot the irony here: Coffee drinkers, lulled into an alpha state by the gently shimmering lights, unconsciously indulging in more caffeine.)
The cafe area seats just over 30, with a long counter for an up-close view of the “show,” and a large communal table where new friends can be made easily. When you are done with your reading material, simply place it in one of the cafe’s acrylic trays.
Books & Cafe isn’t, however, a place for quiet reveries. The peaceful earth-tone color scheme and the hypnotic light show have to compete with very genki pop-and-rock BGM at a slightly higher than necessary volume, punctuated by frequent and chirpy announcements about the specials of the day.
Also, regrettably, some people did not seem to understand the well-placed and obvious “No keitai” signs. But after some gentle yet firm stare-downs from the waitresses, certain businessmen put away their cellular phones and got back to their Hawaii Kona Extra Fancy blends and articles about “How to improve your golf swing.”
Still, if you don’t mind shoppers chatting, beans grinding and someone fiddling with the U-sen dial to find just the right BGM, this is the spot for you. It’s nice to know there’s a place where you don’t have to judge a book by its cover — just don’t spill anything on it.
Books & Cafe, (03) 3212-8011, is located on the 6th floor of the Daimaru department store, JR Tokyo Station, Yaesu exit. Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and holidays). For more information, call the number above.