The ideal coffee shop nestles into a community. It finds a comfortable harmony with the local flow of life and brings with it the comfort of the third space: that which exists between the home and the workplace, and offers a moment of respite, or relaxation, or revelry. It’s like a dash of color.
Exactly what shade this color is, and how it gets used, well, that depends on the coffee shop itself. It’s down to the people that own it and run it—it’s in their interactions with customers, their design of the space, and their approach to the art of brewing coffee.
For the owners of 4/4 Seasons Coffee, Jun and Emi Saito, this color helps them paint a simple love for coffee through the streets of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ni-Chome neighborhood.
Inside, a feeling of space and warmth takes over—there’s a wooden bench along one wall, a table and stools in the center, and a long coffee counter by the window. Jun Saito and I sit at the table, and I look at a collection of jars filled with beans next to the Synesso—coffees from Glitch, And Coffee Roasters, Hoshikawa Cafe, and Five Elephant—as he talks about his start in coffee.
He says Glitch Coffee’s owner, Kiyokazu Suzuki, interviewed him back when Suzuki was still the head trainer at Paul Bassett. Saito was visiting Tokyo from Niigata at the time. He tried the coffee, and it blew him away. He asked on the spot, “Will you let me work here?”
It was busy at the cafe, but Suzuki made time for him. They talked. Suzuki said, “If you quit your job”—Jun was a furniture maker in Niigata—”we’ll hire you.”
So, Jun started working at Paul Bassett.
This is the reason you’ll always find Glitch on the 4/4 Seasons coffee menu—it’s partly to do with the high-quality coffee, and partly a way of showing gratitude.
While Jun worked at Paul Bassett, Emi was selling dry fruits on the same basement floor of Shibuya’s Hikarie department store. That’s how they met. As they got to know each other, the two visited coffee shops around Tokyo and talked of one day opening their own shop.
Over time, a shape began to form; they researched equipment, scouted locations, and looked at designs. The goal was to open a store before they turned 30; last year they decided to go ahead, opening 4/4 Seasons in October. (Both are 27 now.)
For the time being, the two simply want to improve as baristas and create a revolving seasonal menu including homemade cakes and desserts. They talk of someday becoming a specialty shop for a deeper variety of coffees than they currently have available—a place showcasing coffees from both Japan and abroad.
They say it’s the experience of re-creating their own first encounters with specialty coffee that bring them the most joy.
Saito says, “When I first tasted specialty coffee I was like, ‘I can’t believe this is coffee.’ So, being able to see that in other people is a real treat. We had a customer come in who tried a coffee and liked it, and now he’s always trying something different. You watch that and you feel like, ‘Yeah, we did it.’ ”
But he says it’s also more than just the coffee—it’s about those interactions you share, and the experience you create, even before you serve the coffee.
“Delicious coffee is, well, people expect it,” he says. “But greeting people when they come in, talking to them or listening to them, or having some cakes or sweets you can offer—those kinds of things create a more enjoyable experience for people, and I’ve come to realize that’s really important.”
It’s these moments that color the shop: the light conversation, the smiles, and the simple act of them bringing your coffee to where you’re seated—subtle actions that reflect care and consideration. It’s all part of the concept of the store, hinted at in the name.
“We want people to come here [already] knowing that the coffee is good,” says Saito. “For us the concept is more important; it’s the idea of enjoying the change of the seasons, whether that’s through the coffee, the space, or the interactions.”
And maybe that’s the kind of color we think of when we think of the local cafe: the color of the seasons, as painted in coffee and communication. It’s the little things, like a slice of homemade cake with a latte during a cold winter, or an ice cream soda at the start of spring, the iced coffee during a lazy summer, or the morning slice of pizza toast on a lonely autumn morning.
Whatever the season might be, 4/4 Seasons hopes to give it a dash of extra color, and a little touch of warmth, with each and every visit.
Photos courtesy of Sonia Cao (@sscmot) with many thanks.