Words by Andrew Spittle
As snow lovers, we all have our morning rituals to get us ready for the slopes; whether it’s putting on your lucky ski socks, a warming morning shower, yoga (snowga), or in my case enjoying a good coffee.
Finding a good coffee is not always easy in ski towns. North America for example until recently had a disappointing attitude toward the coffee culture, as evidenced by their long-standing tradition of serving up reheated tasteless dishwater! But happily things are changing and many resorts across the globe (including USA) are now well and truly aboard the coffee train.
Good coffee is not a traditional part of the Japanese culture, and up until recently coffee was something you bought in a can from a vending machine! But the Japanese are very good at recognizing a market opportunity, and adept at copying and perfecting products to meet the demand (just think of watches and cars). No better example of this is in Niseko where locals have begun setting up boutique coffee outlets, guided perhaps by their ancient principle of Kaizen, or ‘continuous improvement’.
Things were not always this way. While completing my ski instructor training in 2009, I had to trek miles across the Hirafu village to get an early coffee which then was only available at The Vale – all so I could start my morning instruction on time, and sometimes coffee took priority over the start time of class, much to the frustration of my sensei Brian-san. But even he had to admit that I couldn’t ski without coffee, so was somewhat tolerant! The Vale still makes a reasonable brew, but others have fully embraced the Kaizen philosophy and there are now several options for a good coffee.
Perhaps the most surprising is the “Gloorious Coffee” stand inside the insanely busy Rhythm Japan ski shop on the main street of Hirafu. So while you are waiting for your mate to try on every pair of hire boots in the store, you can kick back and enjoy one of the best coffees on the mountain.
Another unexpected highlight is Hana 1 coffee hut at the entrance to the Hanazono 1 Quad lift. Expat Aussie barista Mike and his local partner Jenny, make some of the best brews in Niseko. They also serve up a mean dumpling.
Mike has been courted by many of the mountains bigger operations to move inside to the warmth of the “big time” restaurants, but he prefers to do his thing out in the elements and providing the same excellent product year in and year out.
A honourable mention should go to the Paradise Hut in Annupuri, not for its coffee, but for it’s awesome hot dogs and hot chocolate. It seems to have been designed by Dr Who, with its ‘Tardis’ like ‘bigger on the inside’ feel.
Further down the slopes at the Annupuri Gondola base is the P.I.C. burger van that also does a reasonable coffee. But the real appeal here is the Teriyaki Chicken burgers (you must have all the extras like avocado and bacon) just allow a little preparation time.
There are other hit’s like the Village Patisserie in Niseko Village, which is famous for its sweet delights like local chocolates, cakes and ice-creams, and some big misses too, like the expensive and hard to get to Lookout Café above the Niseko Village Gondola, and the Hirafu Gondola Cafe. Both are only marginally better than the instant stuff you find at local Japanese 7/11’s, only about $7 more expensive.
The place that brings all the elements together and stands out as the best cafe in all of Niseko United is the humble but authentic Mountain Kiosk coffee stand next to the Welcome centre in Hirafu. Conveniently located in the heart of the Hirafu operations, it is a little out of place with it’s rustic wooden structure, that would be more at home in a sleepy mountain village than a buzzing ski hub like Niseko.
It is a place where born and raised local pro snowboarder Ihara Hiromasa and his friendly staff make awesome brews every day amongst their little bit of coffee heaven. With fresh beans sourced from local master roaster Takano, coffee snacks made by Ihara-san’s wife, and nick knack’s reflecting a connection to the place, it is a great way to start the day in this magical place in the snow.
So recapping with scores:
|Outlet||Score (out of 10)
|The Mountain Kiosk
|Hirafu Gondola Café||3|