About Life Coffee Brewers

Detail taken from the menu board outside About Life Coffee Brewers in ShibuyaAbout Life Coffee Brewers is part of the small Onibus Coffee group which has its own roastery in Yakumo, although it also serves coffee from two other Tokyo roasters, Switch Coffee Tokyo and Amameria Espresso. No more than a coffee stand at the top (western) end of Dōgenzaka in Shibuya, it’s something of an institution and a favourite of many visitors to the city. Serving mostly takeaway customers (so don’t forget to bring your own cup), you can stand at the counter or sit on one of two benches down the side. There’s also a semi-secret sheltered standing-room only area inside, which is handy if it’s raining.

For such a small spot, About Life has a large output. There’s a concise with/without milk espresso menu, with the Onibus house-blend used for milk drinks and blends from the other two roasters available as espresso/Americano. However, what’s really impressive is the selection of six single-origins, two from each roaster. These can be had as an espresso (no milk) or as a pour-over through the V60. All the coffee, espresso and pour-over, can be had hot, or with ice. The selection of single-origins is seasonal, changing every two to three months.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • On the corner of Dōgenzaka & a broad alley at the west end of Shibuya stands About Life.
  • Coming up Dōgenzaka it's easy to miss. There's just a little window hatch on the street...
  • ... while there's also an A-board to catch your attention.
  • The main part of About Life Coffee Brewers is around the corner on the alley.
  • Not that there's much here: just the main serving hatch and a small bench...
  • ... and then further along, another longer, but narrower, bench.
  • The sliding doorway in the middle is interesting though. It may look staff only, but go in.
  • On your left, there's a great view of the baristas at the espresso machine...
  • ... while to your right is a small standing area where you can drink your coffee...
  • ... or shelter from the rain. The shelf is just wide enough for a laptop!
  • The previous photos were from an evening in April 2017. This is how it looked last week...
  • ... when I returned to About Life Coffee Brewers. Note that the advertising is gone...
  • ... but otherwise it looks very much the same in the summer sunlight.
  • Even the inside standing area hasn't changed much, although it's less cluttered now.
  • The menu, a very simple affair, is chalked up to the side of the main hatch. This is 2017...
  • ... and this is 2018. Once again, there's little change.
  • There's also a paper menu on the counter-top of the main hatch.
  • On my first visit, About Life was just changing over beans and had run out of two.
  • When I returned last week, there was a full slate of beans.
  • I also discovered a second page to the menu, with tasting notes for all the single-origins.
  • It's not just coffee though, you can also buy retail bags of the beans to take home.
  • About Life uses three roasters: here are the espresso blends from each (from 2017)...
  • ... while here are the single origins from 2018.
  • Although the bags are all branded 'About Life', the roaster is shown (Switch in this case).
  • About Life is a great place to watch coffee being made. You can stand at the front...
  • ... or if you don't want to be in the way, sneak off to the side to watch the pour-over.
  • This is an iced pour-over (for someone else, I hasten to add!). First step, bloom...
  • ... with a good stir of the coffee grounds. Next...
  • ...  let it filter through. Aout Life is one of a few places I know that uses stands with V60s.
  • Then comes the first of the main pours...
  • ... where the V60 is carefully topped up.
  • This is repeated until the requisite weight of water has filtered through.
  • About Life's also a good place to watch the espresso being made. You can see the action...
  • ... from the side hatch, although you're quite a way from the espresso machine.
  • A much better vantage point is inside, where you are right next to the grinders.
  • The Mythos 1 is for the Onibus Blend (lattes), with the EK43 used for everyting else.
  • So, to business. First step, grind the coffee.
  • All the doses are weighed, even though the Mythos 1 is self-dosing.
  • Spot on.
  • After a quick, firm tamp...
  • ... the portafilter is attached and were off.
  • About Life always makes a double shot which extracts into two espresso cups.
  • Almost done.
  • Someone has ordered a single-origin espresso, so the EK43 is adjusted accordingly.
  • Again, each dose is weighed.
  • That's right.
  • A quick, firm tamp...
  • ... leaves a nice, smooth surface, ready for extraction.
  • The nearer grouphead is used for single-origins.
  • I love watching espresso extract.
  • It's such a gorgeous sight.
  • And here's one the barista prepared earlier, my espresso in my Kaffeeform cup...
  • ... which was made with the Guatamalan single-origin roasted by Switch.
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About Life Coffee Brewers is one of four (now five) branches of Tokyo’s Onibus Coffee, which I discovered on my first visit to Japan in April 2017. However, it really came into its own on my return last week, when I was working a few minutes’ walk away, making About Life a natural source for all my coffee needs.

About Life is effectively a coffee stand. Long and thin, it faces a broad alley at the top end of Dōgenzaka, one of Shibuya’s main drags running west from Shibuya crossing. There’s a small window for ordering/collecting on Dōgenzaka itself, but this is more for show and to catch the eye of passing pedestrians. The main window faces the alley, where you’re met by a row of three V60s on their chemistry-set stands, plus the menu.

You order/collect your coffee here, plus you can watch your coffee being made, although try not to get in the way. Alternatively, you can wait on a small bench to the right, with a longer, narrower bench further along on the side of the building. Although mostly used by customers waiting for their coffee, you can sit and drink your coffee here if you like.

Alternatively, head inside, although this is not clear to the casual visitor. There’s a sliding glass door to the right of the main window, between the two benches. Although it looks as if it’s only there to let the staff in/out, if you head inside, you’ll find a narrow, tiled area to the right with a narrow shelf running along the back wall. You can get maybe four people in here and it’s ideal for sheltering from the sun/rain while waiting for your coffee, which you are also welcome to drink here. Finally, it’s by far the best vantage point to watch the espresso being made on the two-group La Marzocco Linea.

On my first visit in 2017, I had the Guatemala San Gerardo from Switch Coffee Tokyo, taking the opportunity to try it as both pour-over and espresso. As a pour-over, it was okay, but it really came into its own as an espresso. It had a fruity aroma, while giving a big hit on the first sip, the acidity really coming through, along with a hint of sourness and an all-round mouthfeel.

On my return in 2018, I had an excellent two-shot latte to start my day, but quickly realised that since I was there for four days, I could try all the single-origins, so that’s exactly what I did, starting each morning with a two-shot latte, while calling back during the day to try one or two of the single-origins. You can see what I made of the six single-origins in my follow-up post, Six Single-origins (and four lattes) in a Week.

Since visiting About Life, I’ve also been to the original coffee shop/roastery in Nakameguro (now just a coffee shop following the opening of the new roastery and coffee shop in in Yakumo) and to Ratio &C, Onibus’ coffee bar inside a bike shop.

1-19-8 DOGENZAKA • SHIBUYA-KU • TOKYO • 150-0043 • JAPAN
www.about-life.coffee +81 (0) 3-6809-0751
Monday 08:30 – 20:30 Roaster Onibus, Switch, Amareria (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:30 – 20:30 Seating Stand-bar Bar, Benches (outside)
Wednesday 08:30 – 20:30 Food Cake
Thursday 08:30 – 20:30 Service Counter
Friday 08:30 – 20:30 Payment Cash Only
Saturday 09:00 – 19:30 Wifi No
Sunday 09:00 – 19:30 Power No
Chain Local Visits 18th April 2017, 17th-20th July 2018

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