Coffee Break: 9 Tranquil Cafés Around the Pacific Rim

From Oakland to Osaka, this collection features cafés that offer peaceful spaces to down a macchiato.

Gavin Moulton Gavin Moulton

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An explosion of specialty coffee roasters in the early 2000s revolutionized modern café culture. Many of the leading forces behind this third wave movement concentrated in cities across the Pacific Rim —notably Tokyo, Seattle, San Francisco and Melbourne. This collection features cafés in these and other Pacific Rim cities that offer a tranquil space to down a macchiato. From coffeehouses underneath railway overpasses to cafés crossed with koi aquariums, these nine designs showcase diverse interpretations of the café tradition and compose the best of contemporary design.

T_coffee by tai_tai STUDIO, Katori, Japan

Located in a historic district, but housed in a concrete 1970s building, T_coffee materially balances modern and traditional forms. The café’s entrance is framed in wood as are the interior furnishings. During the renovation, plaster was removed, revealing the original concrete walls. All internal wiring and heating elements are left exposed, accentuating the béton brut walls. Completing the sensory experience, a roaster is located next to the front, incensing the space with the aroma of fresh coffee.

Bicycle Thieves by Pierce Widera, Melbourne, Australia

Given the role of Italy in the birth of espresso, it is no surprise that this Melbourne coffeeshop draws inspiration from old time Italian cafes, including those built by Italian immigrants in the surrounding Northcote neighborhood. This is epitomized in its namesake, Bicycle Thieves, a classic neorealist film by Vittorio De Sica from 1948. The heritage of bicycling resonates in the rounded tubular lighting, chrome finishes, and burgundy leather bench cushions throughout the cafe.

Blue Bottle Morse Building by JENSEN Architects, Oakland, CA

Adapting a 1921 auto showroom as a café afforded unique opportunities to JENSEN Architects. The expansive interior allowed a 30-foot-long custom table that runs the edge of the building. Reflecting the numerous windows that create a luminous interior, a transparent vinyl curtain cordons off the preparation space and check-out counter. For espresso die-hards, the café is one of few to use a traditional lever espresso machine, where baristas pull shots by hand.

Exterior view of café

Interior view of café

Nagasawa Coffee by Arii Irie Architects, Morioka, Japan

A 1960s vintage roaster is the center of Nagasawa Coffee’s transparent approach to coffee preparation. Each step of the process is visible, from the roaster to grinding and extraction of the grounds. This pared-down outlook highlights not only the quality of coffee, but additionally elevates immaculate design details such as an almost 20-foot-long custom terrazzo table and elegant slatted wooden ceiling.

The Gut’s Coffee by Hidenori Tsuboi Architects, Osaka, Japan

Unexpectedly located underneath a railway overpass, The Gut’s Coffee challenged Hidenori Tsuboi architects to negotiate the unusual site with the café’s needs and to attract passersby customers. A distinctive curving counter occupies one half of the café and the other is filled with benches beneath hanging wall plants. Exterior paint in dark grey marks the café from the surrounding nondescript warehouses and helps catch the attention of pedestrians.

View of Koi Café from street

Koi fish in café aquarium

Koi Café by Farming Architects, Hanoi, Vietnam

The mission of Farming Architects is to unite hydroponics with sustainable building practices. Koi Café achieves this by pairing a green roof with its namesake koi pond. An aquarium runs throughout the café and is fed by recycled water. Waste from the koi is then collected and used as fertilizer for the green roof. A double layer bris soleil façade protects the fish and clients from excessive sun. These feature create a relaxed haven with the sounds of a waterfall secluded from the noise of Hanoi streets.

Connel Coffee by Nendo, Tokyo, Japan

For a new café adjacent to the firm’s central offices, architectural studio Nendo renovated a floor in Kenzo Tange’s iconic Sogetsu Kaikan building. Original modernist features such as the Saarinen Tulip tables and chairs were updated and painted in matte black. To match the material of the counters and unify the space, the floors were redone. A sense of continuity is echoed in the extensive use of mirrored surfaces—polished countertops, ceilings, and glass windows—that appear to infinitely reflect the ceiling lights. Accompanying the café renovation, Nendo designed custom mugs and coffee stirrers featuring a double C motif that plays on the two “n”s in the company’s name.

Elm Coffee Roasters by Olson Kundig, Seattle, WA

Simplicity and brightness guided Olson Kundig’s design of Elm Coffee Roaster’s South Lake Union Location. The walls are clad in handmade mint green tiles from Mexico that complement that marble café bar. Wooden accents and plump leather chairs soften the space the matte black ceiling and exposed steel, blends homey and industrial ambiances.

Metalhands Coffee by DAGA Architects, Beijing, China

DAGA Architects transformed a historic warehouse on Grinding Factory Street into a new café, carefully preserves its past. Weathered patina and exposed bricks were left intact. On the inside, modern lighting and traditional bentwood chairs exemplify the café’s blend of old and new. Outside, the café is surrounded by greenery, with a small lawn, hedges, and trees that give the space a relaxed and secluded feel amid the bustle of the city.

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