The word “passage” brings connection and movement between places to mind. Passages connect buildings and rooms, as well as the people who traverse between them. It’s a space where transitions happen. This is the idea behind Passage Coffee, the newly opened coffee shop along the bustling Sakurada Dori in Mita. The street is full of business people, students, and locals moving between stations, offices, universities, and homes. Cafe owner Shuichi Sasaki sees his shop as a passage between any two points.
If his name sounds familiar, it probably is: He’s the 2014 World Aeropress Champion. But long before that, he was a student with a part-time job at Starbucks who fell for coffee, worked for Japanese coffee chain Doutor, and eventually settled at Paul Bassett before opening Passage. Last year was when he first started to feel the pull to do his own thing.
“It was around summer [of last year] that I really decided,” he says. “Opening a shop was always at the back of my mind, but I didn’t feel the need for a long time. But last year I realized I wanted to have my own space with my own style. I wanted to create a place for that.”
Sasaki says that the new store is a chance to express himself, his style, and his favorite coffees. He says he wants Passage to feel open, simple, and easygoing.
“I don’t like things too messy or complicated,” he says. “I wanted something simple. Easy to enter and easy to navigate. Easy to get in and easy to get out—a simple spot that could easily become a part of everyday life.”
But it’s not just about self-expression. Sasaki chose Mita as a location because it’s an area with a lot of busy people and no specialty coffee. Like many young crusaders of the Tokyo coffee scene, Sasaki wants to bring Third Wave coffee to a new and otherwise unrepresented area. It’s an idea that goes hand-in-hand with the small-scale coffee seminars he’s started after hours.
“There didn’t seem much point to opening in a place like Shibuya or Shinjuku, where there’s already a lot of coffee,” he says. “There aren’t many coffee shops here [in Mita], but you’ve got businessmen, students, and locals, and there’s a good feel to the place. It’s a good chance for us.”
While speaking to Sasaki about his shop, I start to think of his shop less as the passage itself, and more like a new painting on the wall of that passage. It’s something that brightens your day and makes itself a part of your journey. This idea of bringing something new to an otherwise ordinary journey is just one of the things Sasaki likes about working with coffee.
“First and foremost, I like the act of making it delicious,” he says. “I like the complexities of roasting and I like brewing because both of these things are so important to the expression of a source location and its flavor. But I also like introducing new coffees to people, and being a person’s first specialty coffee experience.”
He says it’s not easy making a business out of coffee or making a living from it, either. It’s growing in popularity, but it’s still an everyday struggle to increase the number of drinkers. At the same time, it’s clearly something he’s passionate about. As I watch passersby drop in to sit and chat or get their coffees to-go, it seems that maybe this is what all the best coffee shops are: Passages that don’t just link one location to another, but make the journey that much more enjoyable.
Photos courtesy of Kazu Poon.