Kyohei Nishiya’s new chapter in east Tokyo
On a Thursday morning in late winter, Coffee Counter Nishiya opened its doors for the first time. Located in the neighbourhood of Kotobuki, the compact shop marks a new chapter for Kyohei Nishiya, who closed his much-loved coffee house in Shibuya last year. In the months since its opening, the shop has gradually nestled its way into the daily lives of east Tokyo residents, while also providing a focal point for visitors to the Kuramae/Asakusa area. And for those who have come to appreciate Nishiya’s work over the past two-plus decades, the shop is a mix of the familiar and the fresh. Finding a spot at the counter, we listened to the story behind this new addition to east Tokyo.
“Before there is a space, there needs to be a place,” explains Nishiya. Seeking to explore new horizons, the barista cast his eye far and wide, even beyond the city limits. With time, he was drawn to Tokyo’s east side and the shitamachi neighbourhoods along the Sumida River. What attracted him there was the presence of numerous longstanding eateries and businesses passed down from one generation to the next. Central to their survival have been the strong bonds they’ve forged with customers and the community. These values resonated deeply with Nishiya, reflecting the kind of establishment he wanted to create.
Searching for months on end, he eventually came across an unusual space previously home to a cake shop. The long and narrow interior provided the opportunity to create a standing-only space with a full-length counter. The interior soon took shape and several months later Coffee Counter Nishiya was born. Elegant and intimate, the counter serves as a link between Nishiya and his customers. “My aim is not to serve everyone at once,” says Nishiya. “Instead, I move back and forth along the counter, providing one-on-one service to each and every person.” The intimacy of this service and having customers shoulder to shoulder at the counter allows for connections to be made.
In the same way the compact space has yielded benefits, the concise menu has further highlighted Nishiya’s lineup of espresso-based drinks and other creations. The counter places the act of making centre stage, unveiling the symphony of techniques and movements that go into each one of his creations. Whether it be a refreshing espresso tonic or silky shakerato, witnessing this process provides an insight into the barista’s craft, building a sense of anticipation that enhances the overall experience.
Indeed, each and every facet of the shop has been carefully considered, from the hand-painted signs to the interior details and quality coffees. There’s the sense of vitality that comes with a new opening, but also an underlying respect for the neighbourhood it calls home. But ultimately, it’s Nishiya himself who brings these elements together with his signature style. Standing at the counter, I can’t help but be reminded what makes places like this so special.
Not long after my first encounter with the barista almost a decade ago, I wrote: “At the heart of this local landmark is Nishiya himself. You’ll always find him waiting at the counter in a vest-and-tie combination… ever friendly and a smooth practitioner behind the bar, he’s the reason we venture to Coffeehouse Nishiya.” Even today, with a different store in a different neighbourhood, these words still ring true.
While much time may have passed, during which the city has experienced significant change, Nishiya has stayed true to his craft. Quality drinks, personal service and attention to detail, but above all, making the experience memorable. Therein lies the enduring appeal of Coffee Counter Nishiya.
Text by Ben Davis
Photo by Daisuke Hashihara