IN TOKYO: ALFRED TEA ROOM AND THE INCESCAPABLE REACH OF AMERICAN CHAINS

Alfred Coffee is a popular, fashionable budding mini coffee-chain empire in Los Angeles with about a half dozen cafes spread across the city’s hip and moneyed neighborhoods. Alfred also has a smaller spin-off tea salon, aptly called Alfred Tea, in L.A.’s ultra-bougie westside burb of Brentwood. Imagine our surprise to find an outpost of Alfred Tea as we strolled the back streets of Ura-Harajuku in Tokyo. At first, we couldn’t believe it, but sure enough there it was with its cool antlerized “A” logo in white neon. On second thought, it should not have been a surprise to us at all. Up-and-coming, cool, foreign retail-store brands — especially where food or drink is concerned — get licensed and franchised by savvy Japanese trendspotting companies all the time, sometimes with the number of branches in Japan soon outnumbering those in the country of origin. Some other brands in this category are Blue Bottle Coffee, Doughnut Plant, Le Pain Quotidien, Blue Star Donuts, and Saturdays. The surprise with Alfred perhaps was just how quickly this happened, and the fact that, for us, it’s a super local brand — We literally live three blocks away from the Alfred Tea in L.A. Which goes to show you can take the boy out of L.A., but you can’t take the L.A. out of the boy. (Something like that?). Or, rather, you can’t escape L.A. Though it was nice to see Alfred finding an audience in Japan, it’s also momentarily dispiriting to travel half way around the world only to find the very same thing you see everyday in your own backyard at home. It the long now firmly entrenched global economic eco-system of first-world trends and consumption patterns, it’s inevitable. Anyway, there’s also something ironic about ordering an American, modified version of Japanese green tea in the form of an iced matcha latte in Japan, a nation of heavy and sophisticated tea drinkers who know their tea. But also a nation of novelty seekers. So there you go. By the way, the coffee — and the tea — at Alfred is above-average good, no matter where you are.