Sometimes a bit of youthful brashness goes a long way. Masataka Nojo was still just a university student when he started his coffee empire in 2009, from a humble coffee stand in Kanagawa Prefecture’s Shonan region.
“I didn’t really know much about coffee at the time, but I knew what I wanted to do to the industry,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to start a revolution, exactly, but I wanted to innovate — to try a new concept, create a new coffee culture.”
That concept was a simple one: While most coffee shops have traditionally favored blends, Nojo pledged allegiance to single-origin coffees. At Nozy Coffee, each cup is brewed with beans from a specific region — and not a blend in sight. On a recent visit, the counter was lined with coffees from individual estates in Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, each accompanied with concise tasting notes.
The shop moved to its present home near Setagaya Park in 2010, and quickly positioned itself at the forefront of Tokyo’s coffee boom. Never mind the acres of magazine coverage that Nojo and company have received: As new specialist coffee shops opened around town, they often looked to Nozy Coffee to supply their beans.
Nojo, now aged 27, says he’s keen to make coffee feel accessible, rather than swamp customers with jargon and unfamiliar terminology. He downplays details about how beans are roasted, for example, putting the emphasis instead on how the extracted coffee actually tastes.
“It’s easy to make coffee sound difficult,” he says. “Explaining it in a way that’s fun and simple to understand can be a lot trickier.”
One convert was Shimpei Terada, president of T.Y. Express, the group behind notable Tokyo restaurants including Beacon and Ivy Place — and, coincidentally, an alumnus of the same university campus as Nojo.
“He used to hate coffee, but he said he could drink the stuff we made,” Nojo recalls. So when a prime location came up for rent on Cat Street, Harajuku’s well-trodden hipster thoroughfare, Terada suggested a collaboration between T.Y. Express and Nozy Coffee.
At The Roastery by Nozy Coffee, which opened in late 2013, shoppers can get their caffeine fix in some unusual ways — espresso in a champagne flute, anyone? — and see Nozy’s roasting operation in action. Once roasted, the beans are dispatched to locations throughout the capital — between 50 and 60, at the last count. Nojo says that supplying beans was always part of the business plan, and he’s keen to spread the single-origin gospel further.
“You can drink high-quality coffee at restaurants and cafes now, but I’m thinking about places like hotels and wedding halls,” he says knowingly. “They’ve already got the coffee machines, so I’m hoping they can make the switch.”
Nozy Coffee: 2-29-7 Shimouma, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo; 03-5787-8748; open daily 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; nearest station Sangenjaya (www.nozycoffee.jp) The Roastery by Nozy Coffee: 5-17-13 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-6450-5755; open daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; nearest station Shibuya (www.tyharborbrewing.co.jp/en/roastery)