However much we might travel on the hunt for a good cup of coffee, most of us have a local: a place where we meet friends, or pass through for a morning brew, or sit to read and indulge in quiet thought. The appeal is in the very definition of the word—the local is a living, breathing part of the community. It's nearby, it’s comforting, and you never need to plan a trip around it.
The Aoyama neighborhood’s newest coffee shop, The Local, looks to put a new spin on this idea by bringing a slice of the local experience to Tokyo customers. Project director Takahiro Takeuchi says the aim is to connect people to coffee shops that roast their own—and, surprisingly, he doesn't care so much whether it's his Local or another one.
“If we look at our [current] bean lineup, we have Ritual Coffee Roasters, a San Francisco local; Trunk Coffee, a Nagoya [Japan] local; and Glitch Coffee, a Jinbocho [Tokyo] local. There are locals all over the place, right? So we want to showcase a variety of coffee, and by doing so, help people discover a different neighborhood’s local coffee shop.”
Takeuchi says everything began when he started getting into coffee culture. He bought coffee magazines but didn't like lugging them around the city. A web designer by trade, he took what data he could find and made an online guidebook—something that could be easily accessed on a phone. That pet project, Good Coffee, slowly grew into a go-to web resource for Tokyoites looking for coffee in Japan.
Good Coffee now boasts English and Japanese versions, with an interesting split between the two: while the Japanese side focuses on specialty coffee, the English side paints a broader picture of the whole Japanese coffee experience, with a mix of new shops, hidden gems, and old-school kissaten (tearooms that double as coffee shops).
The Local’s goal, then, is to build a bridge linking online and offline: From seeing a brew method to trying it. From reading about coffee shops to visiting them. Takeuchi says it's hard to share specialty coffee by web alone; it’s an experience you need to see, smell, and taste.
“If people have a chance to drink it, they have a chance to understand what makes it interesting,” he says. “We tried to create those moments by organizing events like the Tokyo Coffee Festival, but even that is only a couple times a year. The chances for that linking experience are really limited.”
So, uniquely, The Local isn't looking to be anyone's competition on the coffee scene. Takeuchi talks about his shop like it's a medium for discovery, the first step a person might take down a road that continues on to other shops and into further revelation. But encouraging people to take that step means making the process smooth and easy—hence an online ordering system that allows a customer to order from their phone and pick up a coffee just as it’s ready to go.
At The Local's counter, the coffees of the month are front and center; they're lined up in front of a series of V60 drippers, complete with inexpensive 50-gram bags—to encourage brewing at home without the worry of investing in bigger bags of beans.
It all boils down to a desire to see more local coffee shops in the Tokyo area. Takeuchi says good coffee isn't something you should have to go out of your way to find—you should be able to find it close to home.
So expect a taste of the neighborhood when you visit the little coffee shop in Aoyama; just don’t expect it to be the neighborhood you’re used to. Keep an open mind and, with some luck, you might even stumble across a brand new place to call your local coffee shop.