Themed cafes and zen teahouses in Singapore to make you feel like you're in Japan

PHOTO: Facebook/kumoyasingapore

For those of us who loved jet-setting to Japan each year, staving off the wanderlust has been a losing battle. With Singapore now opening vaccinated lanes to Germany, there’s still some way to go before most of us can travel freely once more.

To get a taste of Japan in the meantime, we’ve put together an itinerary of themed cafés and teahouses in Singapore. From tranquil zen gardens to anime wonderlands, these spots will transport you to the land of the rising sun.

Suzuki Gourmet Coffee

Tucked away in a Boon Lay industrial estate is a teahouse that looks straight out of ancient Kyoto. Opened by Singapore’s oldest coffee roastery, Suzuki Gourmet Coffee is a zen sanctuary with its shoji-style doors and pale wood furnishings.

Bonsai plants and the soft gurgle of a shishi-odoshi – a bamboo fountain common in Japanese gardens – set the stage for a tranquil sipping experience. Their filter coffee is stellar and crafted with fresh-roasted beans, but it’s the tea lattes made with Hokkaido milk that won our hearts. Sip on creamy brews like Kyoto Uji Matcha Hokkaido Latte ($8++) and Hojicha Hokkaido Latte ($8), served on traditional wooden trays.

Suzuki Gourmet Coffee is located at 10 Chin Bee Avenue, Singapore 619934, p. +65 6266 3933. Open Tues-Fri 10am–5pm, Sat-Sun 10am–4pm. Closed Mon.

Kumoya

Get your dose of kawaii at cutesy themed café Kumoya. Their two branches in Bugis and Orchard Central play host to a rotating slew of pop-ups, centered around Japanese comic and cartoon characters we know and love – Rilakkuma, Little Twin Stars, and more.

Clad in stylish white, the Bugis branch is currently home to manga character Crayon Shinchan and his cheeky antics – complete with seafood curry rice and wobbly puddings showing off his famed jiggling butt.

Meanwhile, the Orchard Central outlet has been taken over by cuddly Sumikko Gurashi characters, with animal-shaped croquettes and a retail area stuffed with plushies.

Kumoya has branches in 8 Jln Klapa, Singapore 199320, and 181 Orchard Rd, #04-08 Orchard Central, Singapore 238896.

Japan Rail Café

Managed by the East Japan Railway Company, this café takes us on a journey through Japan’s prefectures to indulge in the seasonal flavours of each region. Sink your teeth into Toyoma’s famed shiro ebi  with their current seasonal creation, the Ebi Kakiage Burger ($18) packed with sweet white shrimp.

Then wash it down with kinako lattes and Japanese tipples like Ponshu-Gria , a sake riff on sangria infused with Japanese dried fruit. Once you’re all fuelled up, head over to the retail area to browse Japan rail tickets, tour information, and craft souvenirs.

Japan Rail Café is located at 5 Wallich St, #01-20 Guoco Tower, Singapore 078883, p. +65 6385 5422. Open Mon-Thurs 11am–9pm, Fri-Sat 11am–9.30pm, Sun 11am–8pm.

Hvala

Modern-day teahouse Hvala’s has four outlets across Singapore, each an oasis of serene white-and-wood hues dotted with rustic benches. But our favourite has to be the 111 Somerset branch, with its unique stone steps lined with floor cushions and pebble-strewn pathways.

Complete with an ornamental shishi-odoshi and floods of natural light, it feels like sipping tea in a zen garden. Hvala’s brews are as authentic as they come, with leaves supplied by a traditional tea wholesaler in Japan. While you’ll find your usual ice blends and lattes here, you can also savour ceremonial-grade matcha and rarer brews like iribancha – a Kyoto tea roasted to intense smokiness.

Hvala has branches in CHIJMES, 111 Somerset, Craig Road, and Keong Saik. For more location info, see here.

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JW360°

Another immersive concept by the East Japan Railway Company, this Jewel destination rolls restaurant, café, and retail store into one trip for our tastebuds. The restaurant by Suju Masayaki serves up menus crafted around Japan’s four seasons – not to mention stunning views of the rain vortex.

Sweet tooths will want to head over to the café for treats like matcha mont blanc, sakura gelato, and amazake – a sweet traditional drink fermented from rice. No trip to Japan is complete without a bagful of tasty souvenirs, so stock up on seasonal goodies from the retail corner too: Tokyo banana-flavoured kitkats, sakura-infused buckwheat soba, and more.

JW360° is located at 78 Airport Blvd, #01-223/224/225 Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore 819666, p. +65 6243 2466. Open Mon-Thurs 11.30am–9pm, Fri-Sun 11.30am–10pm.

ANIPLUS Café

If you love binge-watching anime on popular platform ANIPLUS, they’ve got an offline anime wonderland for you too. Run on a collaboration concept, ANIPLUS Café is an otaku haven with a rotating lineup of interior themes, food, and merch.

Currently, they’ve teamed up with beloved rhythm game BanG Dream! Girls Band Party!, so you can count on the all-girl bands’ images decking the space from tables to walls. Tuck into hearty mains and lattes coloured to represent each band, then pick up exclusive BanG Dream! merch and souvenirs imported from Japan.

ANIPLUS Café is located at 8 Raffles Ave, The Esplanade Mall, #01-13C Singapore 039802, p. +65 6815 0011. Open daily 12pm–8pm.

Brown Butter

No need to jet over to Japan to catch sakura season – you can feast your eyes on cherry blossoms all year round at Brown Butter. Earlier this year, this Orchard café underwent a pretty-in-pink makeover to emerge blooming with sakura-lush trees, pastel walls, and even a highly Instagrammable swing.

Their sprawling menu spans everything from pastas to pancakes, with unique Japanese twists such as unagi tamago toast and panko avocado fries. Get a slice of their signature cheese-shaped cheesecakes to leave a complimentary love lock on the sakura trees.

Brown Butter is located at 583 Orchard Rd, Forum The Shopping Mall #01-18/19, Singapore 238884, p. +65 6219 3018. Open Sun-Thurs 11am–8.30pm, Fri-Sat 11am–9pm.

MoMiJi Cafe

Newly launched this year in Bukit Timah, MoMiJi Cafe is an ode to Kyoto’s scenic natural beauties. Head up a stairway framed with ‘torii gates’ and settle into themed seating booths, clad in landscape prints inspired by the four seasons.

The spring booth envelopes you in cherry blossoms as you dine, while the autumn booth is lush with maple leaf foliage.

What’s more, this café isn’t all looks either – not when it’s helmed by Teppei Yamashita, the chef behind concepts like Man Man Unagi and Teppei Japanese Restaurant. Authentic fare is the order of the day, from Kyoto-style sandos to MoMiJi Yaki Curry ($11.80++) crafted with spices from a Kyoto manufacturer.

MoMiJi Cafe is located at 9 King Albert Park, KAP Mall, #01-37, Singapore 598292, p. +65 8883 9884. Open daily 10am–7pm.

Kurasu

Third-wave coffee culture has hit many cities, but it takes the land of the rising sun to turn pour-over coffee into a slow, meditative art. Bringing us a whiff of Japanese hospitality is Kurasu, a Kyoto-based coffeeshop that brews up beans from specialty roasters around Japan.

Tucked away in co-working space The Company, Kurasu oozes Japanese minimalism with its soft glow, palette of neutrals, and wood furnishings with clean lines. Snag a seat at the sleek bar and watch artisanal blends from the likes of Haru Kochi carefully brewed up before your eyes.

Kurasu Singapore is located at 261 Waterloo St, #01-24, Singapore 180261. Open daily 8.30am–6.30pm.

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This article was first published in City Nomads.