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Tokyo cafes serve up coffee with a side of cyclo-tourism

by Claire Williamson

Staff Writer

For Hideto Irikawa, a successful cafe is a hub that offers “community access for everyone.”

Of course, what “community” looks like depends entirely on the neighborhood, and Tokyo’s vary immensely in atmosphere, from the subculture vibes of Harajuku to the more traditional Asakusa and everything in between. What’s common to each is an effort to take advantage of Tokyo’s rising tourist numbers, and many cafes are starting to offer innovative ways to combine quality coffee and sightseeing.

One of Irikawa’s newer ventures, Trex Toranomon Cafe, combines a specialty bike shop with an all-purpose cafe space. Toranomon is a business district, positioned between the more tourist-friendly Ginza and Roppongi neighborhoods. But that makes the area, and Trex, the perfect starting point for those who want to experience Tokyo on two wheels and also grab a meal or cup of coffee. Taking advantage of the unique characteristics of a particular neighborhood — something that Irikawa researches extensively in advance — are how cafes can positively contribute to machi-zukuri, or “urban development.”

To encourage the growth of community, Trex has a bicycle shop with a full range of maintenance services for personal cycles. The shop also offers bicycles to rent for the day and, starting this fall, guided tours of the city.

Meanwhile, the main cafe space serves an American-style buffet breakfast in the morning, Japanese teishoku set lunches during the day and finally transitions into a sake bar for the evening. Floor-to-ceiling windows open the cafe to the bustling street outside and, for the most part, the tables are communal, which Irikawa designed to make Trex a place where tourists and locals can mix. A map of the surrounding area is painted on the wall by the door, and staff have placed pins with their recommendations for cafes or sightseeing spots within easy biking distance.

The brews are also cycling-inspired: Trex sources its coffee from the Tokyo branch of The Bicycle Coffee Company, which roasts the beans here in the city and delivers them via bicycle. On first-sip, Trex’s iced Guatemala-Ethiopia blend is a balanced medium-roast and, most importantly in this blistering summer heat, instantly refreshing.

Although Tokyo’s nascent cycling tourism sector is ostensibly aimed at inbound tourists, “cycle cafes” are also designed to create sustainable communities.

A few stops away from Trex on the Ginza Line, in the Gaienmae area, Ratio Coffee & Cycle also combines cycling and coffee. Opened in 2015, the shop is an experimental collaboration between Bridgestone Cycle and Tokyo-based Onibus Coffee. Not only does it serve the full range of Onibus’ high-quality coffees, it carries a variety of made-in-Japan cycling accessories and even allows you to customize (from scratch!) your own Neocot city bike — a Bridgestone-Ratio & C exclusive.

Although Ratio & C manager Masashi Tasaki estimates that 70 percent of people initially come for the coffee, there are plenty of details that make the space particularly welcoming to cyclists, such as bike racks located both inside and outside the store. According to Tasaki and Bridgestone Cycle store manager Dai Itami, the next step is to use the Ratio & C space to increase awareness of cycling goods, get more people to ride the bikes and to spread cycling culture more generally.

And who better to help spread a love of cycling than a group that practices what they preach. Well-deserved reputation for coffee aside, for Onibus founder Sakao Atsushi and many employees, cycling is an integral part of their lifestyle.

At About Life Coffee Brewers, another Onibus outlet on Dogenzaka street in Shibuya, employees often cycle to work and hang their bikes on a custom stand outside the shop. Itami recounts how a Bridgestone employee saw this setup and subsequently reached out to Atsushi about partnering up.

“People who like bikes coincidentally like coffee,” Tasaki says. Wearing a thick brown leather apron, he meticulously pours a single-origin Rwanda, presenting the result in Onibus’ geometric-patterned take-out cup with a flourish. It’s a well-balanced coffee, with just the right amount of sweetness and a hint of citrus.

Grab a helmet, a take-out cup or both and set out to explore Tokyo from a new — caffeinated — vantage point.

Trex Toranomon Cafe: trex.style; Ratio Coffee & Cycle: ratio-c.jp/en; About Life Coffee Brewers: www.about-life.coffee