There is something special about Light Up Coffee in Kichijoji. It could be the energy of town—with its shopping streets, popular park full of picnicking youth, and lively station— is spilling over. It could be the electric blue and white color scheme of the cafe. It could be the contagious passion of the two cafe owners, Aihara and Kawano—both of whom are in their early 20s—they live and breath coffee. It’s probably a bit of all of these things.
The coffee here is also special, and lives up to the Light Up name. Brewed coffees, prepared via Kalita Wave, are quietly bright and juicy. Their flavors are subtle, coyly waiting for the drinker to pick them out. It’s a brew that should be sipped slowly and contemplated, much like a good glass of wine. The espresso is creamy and rich, with flavors of lemon and amaretto. There is a tart and lingering cranberry aftertaste. It’s an espresso that is great straight or with milk. The quality of the coffee here is impressive, since they are roasting on a small one kilogram Fuji Royal—A roaster small enough to be considered a sample roaster by some in the industry.
Light Up Coffee opened on July 31st, 2014 in the fashionable town of Kichijoji. The two owners met a few years before while working part time at a chain coffeeshop. Back then neither of them actually liked coffee all that much, But they did like latte art. They put in countless hours, both during and after work, honing their latte skills in an obsessive way. Soon they began to search out other coffee shops, to see what other baristas where pouring. As they visited more and more cafes a funny thing happened, they started to like coffee.
When cafes serving lighter roast coffee—like Fuglen and Onibus Coffee—opened they were completely blown away by how sweet and juicy coffee could taste. This inspired an international coffee voyage, bringing them to places such as Rome, Coppenhagen, London, Stolkholm, and Paris. They met with other baristas, talked coffee, and tried every quality cafe they could find. By the end of their trip they came to the conclusion that the overall quality of coffee in Japan was lacking, and they wanted to do what they could to improve it. So, Light Up Coffee was born.
Opening Light Up Coffee in Kichijoji was a risky move. The rent is high in this popular town, so it’s common for a business to close-up shop before really getting started. It was a calculated risk for Aihara and Kawano. They noted the lack of coffee roasters in the area and aimed to fill that void. A high traffic, fashionable area would mean they could influence the coffee habits of more people, so they put all their chips on the table. Fortunately their gamble seem to have paid off. Light Up has a steady flow of customers, and they are making a name for themselves.
Rather than just serve specialty coffee, the staff at Light Up is working hard to popularize it. They hold several workshops a month—ranging from cupping seminars to brewing method workshops—and they are always full. The idea behind these classes is to teach the community that quality coffee is something you can enjoy at home as well. They’ve also hosted coffee festivals with great success. When asked about the future of Light Up Coffee, the owner duo don’t talk about things from a business perspective; they talk about ways to spread the appreciation of coffee further throughout Japan.
Both Aihara and Kawano seem content to talk about coffee for hours. The excitement they share over the growing specialty coffee scene in Tokyo is contagious. While sipping on an espresso and having an animated conversation with the two, I’m pulled into their world; a world where better coffee makes a better life. It’s refreshing optimism. I’d recommend, if you have the chance, that you visit Light Up Coffee and step into a brighter world.
Light Up Coffee is located at 4-13-15 Kichijoji, Honcho, Musashino-shi, Tokyo
10:00 am – 8:00 pm