Sarutahiko Coffee is a name well known in the Tokyo coffee scene. Started by actor-turned-coffee-specialist Tomoyuki Otsuka in 2011, the Ebisu coffee shop is a local favorite for its simple goal of delicious coffee and focus on customer service. The last year has seen the small store take some big strides towards expansion, and the first of those is a new coffee brewing goods shop just a short walk from the flagship store.
“The Ebisu cafe is, to be honest, quite small,” says Suzuki Ryuta, Sarutahiko’s ‘information strategist’. “On the one hand it’s an intimate, friendly space, but on the other, staff have their hands full just brewing and serving coffee. When we tried to stock coffee gear, customers never had the chance to have a good look at it. We’ve always wanted to provide a means for people to enjoy coffee at home, but until now there’s never been the space.”
Which is where the Mameya—or beans shop—comes in. Just a few minutes walk from the cafe, the Mameya is a very different kind of atmosphere. It’s relaxed where the cafe is busy, quiet where the cafe is a buzz of conversation, and a pour-over enthusiast’s dream. There’s something very appealing in the sparse, simple set up: assorted coffee paraphernalia hangs from pale blue walls, and bags of beans fill old timber shelving by a vintage glass counter. It’s Ebisu’s dedicated supply store for the coffee generation.
“We wanted to make it like a toy store for coffee enthusiasts,” says Suzuki, “and we wanted people to get excited about the stuff inside. There’s a feel here like its a tool shop, or a kind of hideout.” Passersby peek heads in curiously, and a few even ask what the art display is all about… and eventually find themselves walking out with some beans and a new coffee dripper.
“It’s more relaxed here,” says head-barista Zenji, “we have the time to really ensure customers find what they’re looking for. Sometimes the cafe feels a little rushed, but here there’s breathing space—people take their time, we chat, and everyone gets quality attention.”
But the Mameya is simply the beginning, with Sarutahiko set to unveil a new roastery in January in Sengawa—a roastery/cafe combination that will seat somewhere close to seventy people. I asked Otsuka about the choice of location—with all the action going on around the east side of Tokyo, why go the opposite direction?
“I grew up in Sengawa,” says Otsuka, “and it’s a beautiful place—it’s growing. There’s so much happening on the east side that I wanted to make a stand and show people the west side, too. At first we searched Ebisu, Daikanyama, and Naka-Meguro for locations, but it was hard to nail down anything solid. The Sengawa location felt right.”
But what makes Otsuka’s choice interesting isn’t just the hometown pride, it’s the investment in the future of Japan’s coffee culture. “Sengawa is growing. It’s an exciting place to be, but there’s no established coffee culture. What I see [in Sengawa] is an expanding neighborhood of families and young children—our new roastery is a chance to start an appreciation of coffee culture for these families and the new generation.”
At the moment the space is little more than transparent glass walls and a few small coffee displays to garner attention, but it’s likely construction and set-up will take place over the new year holidays, and Sarutahiko plans to have everything ready by the end of January. It certainly looks like the new year is going to be a bright one for the people of Sengawa.