At a point somewhere between Shibuya, Naka-Meguro, and Shinsen, the city of Tokyo bleeds into clusters of small apartments, neat houses, and independent businesses. Small shops and studios dot the streets—stylists, boutiques, the occasional restaurant. Design and fashion are at home here—it’s quiet, relaxed, and conducive to setting up shop to do your own thing.
The recent opening of PNB Coffee, then, feels very much in line with the natural order of the neighborhood in this part of Tokyo.
The coffee shop itself is slightly hidden down a small set of stairs at the base of an apartment building. At first glance it feels shy, somehow. Bashful. The interior, however, is warm and bright—a blend of pristine whites and smooth, simple wood. At the long counter in the center, owner Peter Ny Buhl—the PNB behind PNB—quietly prepares a Kalita pour-over, and tells me how he got here.
“I wanted to experience living in a foreign country,” he says, “and since I like Japan a lot, in that sense it was a country I could see myself living in. So I came; first to learn the language, but I liked it enough I wanted to stay, and I thought a coffee shop would be interesting. I thought there are many beautiful coffees from Denmark I want to bring with me to tell a story.”
These stories mark PNB Coffee as unique on the Tokyo coffee scene—it’s the only dedicated coffee shop for La Cabra Coffee Roasters and The Coffee Collective. Eventually, Peter also aims to supply coffee from the Copenhagen Coffee Lab, a smaller roaster he hopes to see develop and grow.
We sit down at a small wooden table to talk, as Kings of Convenience plays over the cafe speakers. It’s a soundtrack to freshly brewed coffee in cute ceramic cups, and last-minute preparations before opening day. I ask about the design.
“I wanted this place to be as natural as possible. No metal where I could help it. I wanted the space to be very in touch with the fact that we’re serving a natural product. I also wanted to keep it open, and for a lot of people in Tokyo where space is limited, I went for a more spacious location.”
The brew bar too, Buhl says, is designed specifically for customers to see and experience the brewing process, wherever they happen to be sitting. It’s a quiet invitation to engage with the coffee—to see it brewing, and learn more about it.
And this is at the heart of what Buhl is passionate about—sharing coffee as a pathway to improving overall conditions, and improving coffee through direct trade.
“Right now, I love brewing coffee,” he says. “I like the sensation; I like the bloom, and the aromas, and these kinds of things. But what really interested me was that [supply] chain, and seeing how much work actually goes into a single cup of coffee. I think most people don’t actually realize it—they think they can just buy a French press or an AeroPress and just make coffee, but 99% of the work in that coffee has been done beforehand.”
It’s surprising to hear a twenty-three-year-old speak with such passion about improving the industry. It’s like you expect him to be chasing fashion trends, or maybe looking for work. Instead, the young Dane dreams of slowly shifting perceptions that begin at his own local coffee hub.
“We want to start working with beans that are direct trade, and when we talk about sourcing, hopefully other coffee shops and roasters will start thinking about it, too. And we can tell them—you can get them from traveling, and meeting people.” He pauses for a moment, and thinks. “There might be too much focus on the process,” he adds, “but not enough on the chain of produce—brewing is always limited by that.”
He says that the last six months feel like a dream, busy with preparations to the point that finally opening feels surreal. We talk about music, and roasting, and coffee, and Buhl lets his thoughts wander to far-off dreams of someday opening a Kyoto coffee shop, and maybe one day organizing roasting collaborations between Japan and home.
“It’s fun to dream a little,” he says, with a wistful smile and a quiet, calm excitement. “Because you never know what’s going to happen. You just really never know what’s going to happen.”
And he’s right—we might never know what’s going to happen in the future. We can’t. But at least for the time being, we know where to go to get a quiet cup of fine Danish coffee.