This post is part of Pocket Cafés, a series examining tiny spaces transformed into bustling coffee stops.
Many tiny-café owners come to run small shops by coincidence or convenience. The team at Onibus Coffee in Tokyo opened their newest (and busiest) café in a closed-down bento restaurant in the Shibuya district. The location serves as Onibus’s multi-roaster shop. Though owner Atsushi Sakao wasn’t looking for a new location, when he saw the space he thought, “This is the kind of destination that should be a coffee place.”
Sakao likes the intimacy of About Life because it allows the coffee to shine. A window wraps around two sides of the shop, allowing customers easy interaction with the baristas and a view of the action behind the bar. Sakao says that with a small shop, customers get to see every aspect of the preparation—a vantage point that’s difficult to offer in a larger café.
With only nine square meters for their baristas and customers (less than 100 square feet), About Life makes the most of their space. Eliminating any sort of kitchen from the layout freed baristas to focus on the coffee and the customers. All drinks are served in take-away cups, and pastries are delivered pre-packed from a selection of local bakers. Sakao prioritized the espresso machine and grinders, which meant having a really small refrigerator and ice maker. Fortunately, the shop has a full-size fridge in the back storage area, which helps meet the cold storage needs.
Two baristas work the bar, which includes three pour-over stands, a two-group La Marzocco Linea, and a Mahlkönig EK 43. Of the 250 customers that come through the shop each day, only three to four can fit inside at a time. Benches on the outside expand the shop’s seating, and hooks for hanging bikes make it convenient for commuters to stop in for a coffee.
“Having a small space is more interactive,” says Sakao. “When you’re really close, you can speak more easily and there’s more conversation with the barista.”
Next, let’s take a look at Grade Coffee in Brooklyn.
More in the series:
—Ellie Bradley is Fresh Cup‘s associate editor.