Ahead of their grand opening, we chatted with one of the co-founders of the newest craft coffee spot in Tokyo.
Craft beer is old news—this year Tokyo is all about craft coffee, and it’s not just for hipsters. Rather than the caffeine hit of a vending machine Boss coffee or a cherry pie frappucino from that chain we love to hate, it’s time to learn about the journey from bean to roaster to cup, and who better to teach us than Alvin, co-founder of ABC Coffee. Originally started as a subscription service showcasing independent Japanese coffee roasters, they’re about to open their first coffee shop in Tokyo: a craft coffee subscription cafe with much more to offer than your average coffee shop.
Whether you step in to enjoy an occasional coffee, want to learn about the trade or need a flexible workspace, Alpha Beta Coffee effortlessly pools all three together, with added tech. Channeling their Silicon Valley background, the membership side of the club offers wifi, powerpoints, lockers and of course, unlimited coffee—all accessed via wireless membership cards. A lifesaver for those without offices, open workspaces are becoming more popular, but few offer unlimited craft coffee along with the regular perks. Regular coffee drinkers are always welcome, with maps showcasing the current coffee locations and an outdoor terrace to enjoy, whilst classes and tastings will be held regularly. Rather than just coffee related though, there will also be tech-related talks and possibly yoga “we want to pair good things made by good people—we’re keeping it simple,” Alvin says, carefully considering the practicalities of hot coffee and downward dogs in close proximity.
The menu follows this concept, with 3 rotating craft coffees plus a house coffee which is a contract-brewed omniroast, as well as a nitro-cold brew. There will also be a selection of five Japanese craft beers on tap, again selected individually by the founders to showcase the best produce of Japan’s craft. The food menu offers light selections from granola to tuna melts to quinoa salads and was designed by San Francisco State Bird Provisions chef Katy Cole—all with a focus on good quality ingredients rather than over-complicated cooking techniques. With opening hours from 10am to 11pm on weekends and 7am – 11pm on weekdays, there’s something for everyone and a goal of creating a community location.
Having chosen the consistently well-to-do but somewhat old-fashioned area of Jiyugaoka for the coffee shop, Alvin feels its gradual development into a “trendy, adult-version of Shimokitazawa” is promising. “Coffee culture permeates society, and Japan is no different, in every neighbourhood there’s an audience, so there’s no need to open up in Shibuya or Shinjuku these days. Take one of our favorites, Woodberry in Yoba, it’s a tiny neighborhood and they’ve just opened their second shop nearby”. The focus on the idea of good-quality coffee being enough is refreshing, and far more appealing than the fads and flavor-traps of elsewhere.
Opening on the 22nd of April, Alpha Beta Coffee will be moving from subscription to serving, but staying loyal to the same concepts of quality, craft and community sustainability. With coffee developing through three waves, we’ve passed through the accessibility high of the 1st wave, the social environment of the 2nd and have reached the quality-focused third, which we can all agree is a good place to be. “It focuses on the origins and peculiarities of the flavor, the roasters decide which elements to bring out and that determines how best to serve it,” Alvin explains coffee like fine wine and considers it a similar trade. The craft has become intense, and while it used to be enough to name the country your coffee beans came from, companies now go from country to region to farm and even to the specific lot, making sure the flavor is consistent. This dedication to perfection and detail certainly has a ring of familiarity about it: “Craft Coffee was started in the West Coast with companies like Blue Bottle, but the creator was inspired by Japan, so it’s come full circle now”. This focus has continued into ABC Coffee, with beans supplied by farmers and roasters selected personally by the founders for their skills and knowledge.
The community they have developed since the subscription service started three years ago stretches beyond the customers and roasters and further into society. Each month customers receive three carefully selected coffees from roasters across Japan, with information and guides about their creation, all hand-packed by adults with mental disabilities through a non-profit organisation based in rural Japan. The choices for coffee are based on more than flavour, with everything from pay-levels to working conditions checked, with sustainability a key factor. The Green Coffee Movement is an emerging scene, with plans to support and facilitate the farmers and roasters to enable access to supplies, collaborate to create a cooperative and develop in the future. The coffee shop will continue this ethical stance despite the challenges Japan presents in some areas “finding things like reclaimed wood is just not possible, and composting isn’t as easy, but we are working on ways to dispose of coffee grounds responsibly, including urban farming”.
With the future of coffee looking bright, there is a simple plan for Alpha Beta: “we want to showcase, not create. We pair good things made by good people and take the time to explain what makes it different”. So next time you’re in need of more than you’re average black coffee, head to Jiyugaoka where you can learn a thing or two about your caffeine hit.