It’s a rainy Sunday morning in the Yoga area of Tokyo. A few locals lazily dot the streets heading to and from the metro, and the majority of stores lining Oyama-Dori are, for the time being, closed. The avenues echo with the gentle rumbling of passing traffic and the pitter-patter of falling rain, among which sits a simple little coffee shop: the new location from Woodberry Coffee Roasters, their second outing in Yoga.
Past the wooden door and the congratulatory flowers, Woodberry Cafe is an unadorned white room housing a La Marzocco Linea, a collection of homemade vegan muffins, a vintage fridge, and two 60s-era speakers in the back corners. Today, acoustic tunes are the soundtrack to friendly conversations between staff and the locals who peek in to say hello or want the scoop on the new shop. Which is exactly the point: this new space aims to be an easy-going, friendly introduction to specialty coffee.
Owner Musashi Kihara sees the second location as explicitly more accessible. “Our roastery cafe is just a little too far from Yoga station,” he told me. “It’s also something of a workshop space at times. I found this spot when I was wandering around and thought it would be nice to have a shop nearer the station. We open at 8 [a.m.], so it’s nice for local commuters, too.”
The new place came together in a blend of the casual and the spontaneous. Construction only took about a month, with friends chipping in together with a local carpenter to prep the new space for opening. The result feels like a DIY project some friends put together to fuel their love of coffee, and therein lies the charm.
Kihara’s story, like so many in Japan, is full of global influences. He first met espresso on trips to New York City while a university student in Arkansas. Post-graduation, he returned home and started on the coffee path, learning from the likes of Nozy and Maruyama before opening Woodberry Coffee Roasters in 2012. Kihara’s first experiments with roasting were with a frying pan, but over time and with growing experience, he moved up to a hand cranked roaster, and eventually the 4kg Lucky Roaster he works with currently.
In Tokyo, where the common path for youth is securing employment in a large company, Kihara’s path seems bold, daring, and very uncommon among people his age. After all, he opened the first cafe at age 21. When asked about it, however, he looks a little sheepish and shrugs. “In my family independent business owners aren’t uncommon. My parents ran a flower shop in Gohongi, and I grew up helping them out. In an odd way, this path was more comfortable for me.”
Kihara hopes to deepen his knowledge this year, by learning more about farms and coffee producers. He speaks of discovering the reasons behind specific tastes and aromas, and focusing his energies on bringing out pleasant tastes to match friendly environments.
As we talk, a pot-bellied man squeezes through the doorway to pat some backs and congratulate everyone on the new open. After he comments on the speakers, I find out he’s the local speaker expert—and the guy who helped track them down for use in the new cafe. “I grew up here,” Kihara says. “This is my home. And now I’m the young guy starting up the new business. Our next door neighbors, the guy upstairs—they’re friends, and they all pitched in to help out and support us.”
And perhaps that’s what makes the little space feel that much warmer. Kihara’s space feels miles away from the long opening day lines of Blue Bottle, and is perhaps part of a totally different movement entirely; in smaller Tokyo suburbs like Yoga, the neighborhood coffee shop is seeing a generational baton-pass from kissaten to a new crop of excited young coffee pros. Kihara, too, talks of his cafes not just as chill-out spots, but spaces for connection and communication. It’s a trend growing more and more common among local third wave coffee culture, and in a place like Tokyo, where being surrounded in strangers is often the norm, these are welcome comforts.