About Life Coffee, a tiny stand from Onibus Coffee, opened quietly this May in Dogenzaka in Shibuya, an area more synonymous with nightlife than great coffee. While this after-dark-centric neighborhood is largely a coffee desert, this has its advantages for About Life. This small, uniquely branded Onibus outpost offers a quality focused, multi-roaster coffee experience in the busy commercial neighborhood—just another sign that Tokyo's specialty coffee growth has truly taken hold.
Onibus has an established, if recent, history among Third Wave and specialty roasters in Japan, having arrived on the scene in 2012. Founder Sakao Atsushi, trained in Australia, took a chance on departing from the prevalent dark roasts of Japan. For many, the original Onibus cafe in sleepy Okusawa remains a destination for modern coffee acolytes living in and visiting Japan. Atsushi has been an engaged proponent of growing modern coffee culture, from bringing in other progressive coffee roasters to hosting public cuppings and brew technique classes.
Though the small About Life opened with little fanfare, it has rapidly become a destination for those looking for exciting coffee in Tokyo. The space is diminutive yet carefully formed, somehow managing to fit in a La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine and twin Mazzer grinders, sleek shelving and a wide offering of beans from some of the best roasters in the burgeoning Japanese scene. This choice of roasters, a showcase of sorts, is one place where the store stands apart from others. At any one time you can expect offerings from Switch Coffee, Amameria Espresso and Onibus Coffee together with guest beans (at the time of my visit, Trunk Coffee Bar and Australia's Market Lane Coffee).
The menu itself is stylishly abbreviated for ease of use, right down to the cup design that provides an easily recognisable choice to the consumer; W = white espresso-based beverages, B = black espresso-based beverages and F = filter coffee.
About Life Coffee showcases its carefully selected coffees by presenting them in the hands of esteemed baristas. Joining Atsushi are head barista Shuhei Yasutake, Yusho Yoshida (also of Fuglen) and Ryoto Kichikawa (previously of Prufrock Coffee, London). On my most recent visit I sampled a seasonal espresso from Market Lane (teeming with cherry notes and chocolaty spiced tones), a pour-over using beans from Nagoya’s Trunk Coffee Bar (tangy with grapefruit acidity/sweetness) and a latte using Onibus Coffee’s own ‘Step’ blend (a mix of Guatemalan, Ethiopian and Kenyan beans). I accompanied my tour through the coffee menu with a semi-sweet Kurumi fig slice, one of About Life's few, but well chosen, food offerings.
Atsushi’s efforts to further the nascent Japan coffee scene continue with a recent collaboration through Onibus Coffee with Slayer Espresso at the SCAJ event, and a string of guest barista appearances at About Life including Shoji Sasa of Mecca Espresso in Sydney and Cesar Vega of Café Integral in New York.
With Japan’s scene eager to embrace new coffee experiences, now more than ever, Atsushi and his peers are advancing coffee life in Japan one mini-cafe-sized step further with About Life.
Dom Sharman is a Sprudge contributor based in Tokyo. Read more Dom Sharman on Sprudge.