Hokkaido is the least densely populated of Japan’s five major islands. All that open space leaves plenty of room for cows to churn out delicious dairy that the rest of the country drools over. And Sapporo – Hokkaido’s capital – spills over with cafés making the most of it.
Silky smooth caffe lattes. Melt-in-your-mouth hot cakes. Scoops of velvety ice cream. And more sky-high parfaits than even the hungriest sweet tooth could chew through. Sapporo’s impressive collection of cafés celebrate the milk Hokkaido is renowned for, while Tokyo’s world-class specialty coffee scene has also infused this city much further north. From third-wave coffee roasters to underground sandwich shops, these are the top 10 cafés in Sapporo, Japan.
Morihico should be a coffee-lover’s first stop in Sapporo. Its first location renovated a leaf-laden, 70-year-old wooden house a couple of blocks south of the Maruyama Koen station in 1996 – one of several now sprinkled across the city. Morihico serves 10 blends and single-origin roasts in its bespoke ceramic cups, as well as a delectable dessert menu. Try the nut-flavoured Yaki Latte as well as the gateau fromage, which uses Hokkaido’s feted dairy. Elsewhere, Atelier Morihico at the west end of Odori Park is the roaster’s flagship inner-city venue, while the Plantation south of the Toyohira River houses Morihico’s roastery plus a shabby-chic café.
Noymond Organic Cafe sources premium ingredients from around Hokkaido. The French toast uses milk and eggs from Tokachi. The hamburger buns are made in-house from local wheat. And the fruit stacked on top of the puffy pancakes comes from orchards around the island. A minimalist space near the Susukino nightlife precinct, Noymond Organic Cafe also pioneered the Shime Parfait – a Sapporo specialty that has now swept Japan, pairing the frozen French dessert with a glass of booze such as sparkling wine.
Indulge in Hokkaido’s famous ice cream at Ishiya Café
Cafe, Ice Cream, $$$
Ishiya Café is run by Shiroi Koibito, the maker of Hokkaido’s legendary white-chocolate-and-wafer biscuits. These crunchy treats are sold in stores across Sapporo, but they taste extra sweet with ice cream and coffee at this buzzing café. Ishiya sits in the Sapporo Underground Pedestrian Space – a passageway running between the Odori and Sapporo stations – and serves chunky hot cakes and parfaits piled high with Shiroi Koibito ice cream, washed down with a hot chocolate or a matcha tea. Above ground nearby, Yukijirushi Parlor is another of Sapporo’s top ice-cream spots – first created exclusively for Japan’s Imperial couple in 1968, and still scooping their signature Snow Royal today.
Try Hokkaido’s favourite coffee chain at Miyakoshiya Coffee
Cafe, Coffee, $$$
Since it began roasting in 1991, Miyakoshiya Coffee has expanded to more than 20 locations across Hokkaido and even as far as Tokyo. And any café that can penetrate Japan’s coffee-obsessed capital is worth trying. Miyakoshiya is unapologetically crowd-pleasing – their website insists, “We do not offer the ultimate coffee that makes coffee lovers growl. It is the best coffee for everyone.” So, the wide variety of roasts caters to all tastes, from the gentle mild blend to the dark French blend. The main store sits in the foothills of Mount Maruyama, close to Morihico’s original location, and pairs its brews with a selection of house-made pastries.
Sniff out coffee in an apartment block at Capsule Monster Cafe
From the outside, this apartment block on the doorstep of Nishijugochome station looks like just that: an apartment block. But start ringing the doorbells inside Space 1-15 and visitors will discover 20-odd stores selling vintage records, arts and crafts, bags and accessories, flowers, jewellery, second-hand books, clothes and food in these refurbished flats. Tuck into noodles at BCS (apartment 806), bagels at Kitchen Toroika (401), Japanese sweets at Niseko Matsukaze (403) and coffee at Kuna Cafe (302). But the sweetest treats are found at Capsule Monster (503) – a treasure trove of pastries, scones and cakes by pâtissier Takuto Kuguminato – partnered with drinks at Capsule Monster Cafe a few doors down in 507.
Every brunch place from the summit of Mount Maruyama to the bowels of Sapporo station seems to serve pancakes, but few are as famous as the melt-in-your-mouth meals at Maruyama Pancake. Located halfway between Odori Park and Maruyama Park, the menu is populated by heavenly dishes like Angel Pancakes and Fairy Pancakes, as well as seasonal recipes like the cherry blossom pancakes during sakura season. But what makes this place unique is that they cook their pancakes soufflé-style, blasting the dough at a super high temperature so that the finished product is crisp on the outside but still doughy in the centre.
Taste beans from around the globe at Ritaru Coffee
Cafe, Coffee, $$$
Courtesy of Ritaru Coffee
Ritaru Coffee cherry-picks beans from coffee farms around the globe, then skilfully roasts them here in Sapporo. Founded in 2010 a block east of Nishi Nijuhatchome station, Ritaru showcases its roasts in its ground-floor retail space, then brews the beans upstairs. The menu reveals 15 different roasts to choose from, as well as brunch dishes like eggs on toast and the Koppedog hot dog. Cake-lovers should plump for the Ritaru Roll – a unique pastry resembling a tree’s annual growth rings, which also appears on all of Ritaru’s ultra-chic branding.
Situated in the tunnels beneath Odori station since 1975, Saera is Sapporo’s answer to Subway. This sandwich joint lets diners create their own meal from a series of options – the fruit sandwich oozing whipped cream and the red king crab salad sandwich stuffed full of seafood are two popular choices – and also offers a decent coffee and tea menu. Saera hums from when it opens at 10am until it closes at 6pm, especially when city workers roll in for a crusts-off sandwich at lunchtime.
Baristart is as much about celebrating the milk as the roast. The majority of Japan’s milk is made in Hokkaido, and this place showcases a rotating roster of three different varieties from around the island. Head barista Yuuki Takeuchi routinely travels to Hokkaido’s many dairies to source new produce, explaining his selections on a chalkboard map in store. Using beans from And Coffee Roasters in Kumamoto, Kyushu, Baristart naturally favours a caffe latte, but also offers espresso and pour-over, hot or iced. This hipster haven is situated steps from Nishiyonchome station below Odori Park – look for the ubiquitous bear mascot on the black-brick exterior.
Rokkatei has dozens of franchises dotted across Hokkaido, but none boasts an address as artsy as this one. Sandwiched between the west exit of Sapporo station and the Hokkaido University’s botanic gardens, this ultra-modern 10-storey building is shared by an art gallery, two concert halls and Rokkatei on the bottom two levels. The ground floor is a sweets shop selling Marusei butter sandwiches and custard-stuffed rolls to take home. And upstairs, Rokkatei’s café plates up an even more inventive sweets menu – think mango tofu, jelly and fromage blanc, and savoury roasted sagebrush with warm bean paste – overlooking a wildflower garden below.