Sometimes a small town brand doesn't stay that way.
Woodberry Coffee Roasters launched in 2012 in the bed-town of Yoga, a sleepy train stop sandwiched between the bustling hubs of Futako-Tamagawa and Sangenjaya. This area fuses traditional Japanese lifestyle with just the right amount of Tokyo grit. Here Musashi Kihara and his faithful crew built a pair of charming coffee shops that have served locals, introducing local residents to the world of specialty coffee. Because of Woodbery's image as hometown heroes, though, it was surprising news when Perch by Woodberry Coffee Roasters opened in the ritzy and high-rent area of Daikanyama. But perhaps this was a natural evolution: as the company has grown and learned, Kihara and crew felt more comfortable dipping their toes into a busier area with a more polished cafe. Now, two years later, they’ve ventured into Shibuya—perhaps Tokyo's most iconic food and beverage neighborhood—adding a cocktail menu, and an even higher sheen.[Ed. note: Woodberry Coffee Roasters of Tokyo is unrelated to Woodberry Kitchen of Baltimore, MD.]
A 10-minute walk to the southeast of Shibuya station, through city blocks dotted with the classic Tokyo combination of old highrises and shiny new developments, will bring you to the cafe. Here the vibe is more bistro-bar than coffeehouse; rather than the traditional counter and register being front and center, the customer is met with bar seating which curves around the front of the space and leads to a handful of tables for sit-down service. That isn’t to say that to-go orders are discouraged—a handsome take-out menu is displayed on the wall on craft paper.
The storefront itself is composed of a glass facade that can be completely opened on suitable days. Natural sunlight brightens the space and helps the numerous houseplants and herbs that decorate the store to thrive. The color scheme is grays and whites, with warmth added by the light woods of the seating and tables.
The cafe is split almost down the middle, half work and production area and half customer space. Behind the counter is a workspace set for producing coffee, cocktails, and combinations of the two. This then bleeds into an open kitchen. The back wall is home to a Diedrich Roaster. “The Shibuya shop is focused on experience,” says Kihara. “You can see our chef, barista, and roaster working—everything we have to offer—because of this we can better explain the story behind what we serve.”
The sit-down menu offers exciting choices for both food and drinks. In addition to pastry, dining options include some very fancy pancakes, toasts, and granola bowls. On top of espresso drinks, the coffee menu features several pour-overs complete with tasting notes, facts on production, and roast statistics, alongside a range of coffee cocktails on the signature cocktail menu.
Those looking for a bespoke experience and a caffeine buzz should try Woodberry's “Espresso Course.” These beverage flights highlight a select bean served in three different ways: as espresso, cappuccino, and signature beverage. The Guatemala Pena Roja is served up as a chocolatey espresso, a sweet and slightly savory cappuccino, and as a carefully prepared cocktail reminiscent of an Old Fashioned. The baristas are happy to answer questions while they carefully prepare each delicious sip in a fusion of bartender-barista shaking, straining, and garnishing.
Kihara explains that the pivot towards bar service was an easy one. When he first began his voyage into coffee, there were few professional opportunities to study the subject, but wine tastings were popular. Because of that experience he has always seen coffee and alcohol as both similar and complementary. He says that Woodberry's customers are enjoying exploring new flavors and new ways to drink coffee as well. However, one challenge that comes with the new store is the current generation's pivot away from alcohol. “Younger Japanese people are less interested in bar culture these days, and may be moving away from drinking (alcohol) altogether. But since we serve coffee we can serve coffee cocktails and non-alcohol cocktails and still introduce the bar experience to our customers.”
Woodberry Coffee Roasters Shibuya is miles removed from their original Yoga shop, and it feels that way. The crew has grown up a lot from their earliest days on the coffee scene and the look and vibe of their newest project shows that maturity. And yet the strong sense of duty to their clientele’s experience and the earnest heart they started with remains—small town vibes holding on to what matters in the big city.
Eric Tessier is a freelance journalist based in Providence, RI. Read more Eric Tessier on Sprudge.