Meet the Roaster: Onibus Coffee

My Colombian El Paraiso, a washed coffee, being made in a V60 at the new Onibus coffee shop/roastery in Yakumo, Tokyo.One of the things I’ve really enjoyed during my various visits to Japan is exploring its varied speciality coffee scene. There’s a strong, local tradition of roasting high-quality coffee, with an emphasis on darker roasts, epitomised by the likes of Maruyama Coffee and Sarutahiko Coffee Ebisu. However, in recent years, there’s an up-and-coming local scene where the emphasis is on lighter roasters led by the likes of today’s Meet the Roaster, Onibus Coffee.

Onibus Coffee is a small coffee shop/roaster chain in Tokyo. Its Nakameguro location was one of my first stops when I came to Japan in 2017, my first time in the country. Back then, it also housed the roaster, in a small space behind the counter, but with the business steadily growing, the cramped conditions were proving impractical, so Onibus relocated the roastery to a new, dedicated coffee shop/roastery in Meguro.

I visited the coffee shop in September, on the first of this year’s two trips to Japan, where I was offered a tour of the roastery, scheduled for my returned in November. I gratefully accepted, heading over to the roastery in Yakumo on my first morning in Tokyo, where head roaster, Yohei, showed me around.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • The new Onibus Coffee Roastery and Coffee Shop in Yakumo, Meguro City.
  • The roastery is on the left and coffee shop on the right.
  • The new roaster, a 22 kg Probat, is clearly visible through the roastery windows...
  • ... and through the windows separating it from the coffee shop, where I popped in for...
  • ... a quick espresso before my tour of the roastery.
  • Time to pop next door to see Yohei, who was giving me my tour.
  • This is the new roaster, a 22 kg Probat, which is currently under wraps until next year.
  • Off to the right is the dispatch counter, where the coffee is bagged up and shipped out.
  • You can see into the coffee shop through the windows behind the counter.
  • This is the view out of the front. Far superior to the view at the old roastery!
  • Until the new roaster comes on line, everything is roasted on the old 12 kg Diedrich...
  • ... which is tucked away at the back behind the Probat.
  • The final part of the operation is the stockroom, off to the right, behind the counter.
  • This is temperature- and humidity-controlled to ensure that the green beans stay fresh.
  • Obligatory roastery picture of a sack of green beans.
  • This is Yohei at work, using an IR probe to check the drum temperature before...
  • ... climbing up a small ladder to pour a 10 kg bucket of green beans into the funnel.
  • There's one last check that everything is okay...
  • ... then the lever is pulled down, depositing the green beans into the drum of the roaster.
  • I guess I had always known that inside the roaster was a massive gas burner, but this...
  • ... is the first time I've been close enough/paying attenion to see the flames!
  • The gauge at the back shows the gas flow to the burners.
  • Although the actual design of roasters hasn't changed in ~100 years everything is now...
  • ... measured, monitored and recorded on computer.
  • One final check that everything is on track...
  • ... and then Yohei opens the flap at the bottom of the roaster...
  • ... and the hot beans cascade out into the cooling pan.
  • The roast over, the gas flow is cut to the burners.
  • Now the job is to cool the beans as quickly as possible to prevent any further roasting...
  • ... which is done in the large cooling pan at the front of the roaster.
  • As the beans cool, Kohei does the meticulous work of sorting through the beans by hand...
  • ... looking for defects and uneven roasts. If he finds one, it's picked out...
  • ... and put to one side.
  • Once the beans have cooled, Kohei opens a second flap, this time at the front of the...
  • ... cooling pan and the beans cascade out into a bucket.
  • All done. That morning, Kohei was roasting components for the espresso blend, so the...
  • ... next step is to mix the components together by putting them back in the cooling tray.
  • The final step, before bagging, is to put the roasted beans through a destoning machine...
  • .... which vibrates the beans so that any (more dense) stones fall to the bottom.
  • All done.
  • The finished product: Onibus' current range of single-origins, bagged up in the coffee shop.
  • I'll leave you with a terrifying sight: me handing over a copy of my book to say thank you!
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Approaching Onibus that Sunday morning, I was greeted by the smell of roasting coffee wafting down the street. Onibus is set back a little, coffee shop on the right, roastery on the left, the new 22 kg Probat roaster clearly visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The coffee shop opened in May this year, with the roastery following in August, although the Probat, which was installed at the time, isn’t currently in use, and is expected to enter operation at the start of next year (2020).

The roastery isn’t open to the public, although you can watch through the windows if you like. It’s also clearly visible through the (much narrower) windows along the left-hand side of the coffee shop. Before starting my tour, I had a quick espresso, the barista recommending the Guatemalan single-origin. Never one to argue with a barista, I was rewarded with a smooth, well-balanced shot, although there was a hit of acidity on the first sip, after which it calmed down. Coffee out of the way, I was taken through to the roastery to meet Yohei.

As well as the new Probat, Onibus also has a smaller, 12 kg Diedrich, the original production roaster from the Nakameguro roastery. Tucked away at the back, behind the Probat on the left-hand side, the plan is to run the two machines together once the Probat comes into operation. To the right, a long counter runs along the windows between the roastery and coffee shop. This is where the coffee is bagged up, either in retail or wholesale bags, before being shipped out.

The final part of the roastery is off to the right, behind the counter in the coffee shop (but only accessible from the roastery). This is a temperature- and humidity-controlled stockroom, where Onibus stores its green beans. A far cry from the original space in Nakameguro, which was cramped and hot, the entire roastery occupying about as much space as the stockroom! The roastery is even more of a contrast, with so much space in comparison to Nakameguro.

Onibus roasts every morning except Monday. There are five seasonal single-origins, with the coffee being bought a year ahead, the specific beans changing every six months. Although Onibus uses an importer to handle logistics, the staff visit every farm that they buy from, sourcing from a small selection of South/Central American and African producers.

Yohei was roasting components of the Onibus Blend (different from the Step Blend served in the shop). This has two naturals (Brazil and Ethiopia) and a washed Guatemalan. Each competent is roasted separately, then combined in the cooling pan to form the finished blend.

As I’ve mentioned, Onibus roasts light. The beans had barely gone beyond first crack when Yohei opened the flap on the roaster, sending the beans tumbling into the cooling pan. In fact, they were still popping as they came out, a rather magical sound! While the beans cool, Yohei sorts through them by hand, picking out any defects and unevenly roasted beans. These are put to one side, weighed and the results noted down. He also takes a sample of each roast for quality assurance. Finally, before bagging, the beans go through a destoning machine (no-one is going to thank a roaster who lets a stone through with their beans: a stone in a bag can ruin an expensive set of grinder burrs!).

In all, I spent a fascinating hour in the roastery, observing and chatting with Yohei. I’m very grateful to him and to Onibus for their time and patience. It was the perfect start to my time in Tokyo!

December 2019: Onibus Coffee was a runner-up for the 2019 Best Roaster/Retailer Award.

4-10-20 YAKUMO • MEGURO-KU • TOKYO • 152-0023 • JAPAN +81 (0) 3-5701-9349
Monday 09:00 – 18:00 Roaster Onibus (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 09:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Benches
Wednesday 09:00 – 18:00 Food Cake
Thursday 09:00 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 09:00 – 18:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 09:00 – 18:00 Wifi Free
Sunday 09:00 – 18:00 Power Yes
Chain Local Visits 3rd November 2019

Liked this Coffee Spot? Then check out the rest of Tokyo’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Tokyo.

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4 thoughts on “Meet the Roaster: Onibus Coffee

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