FOREIGN BARISTAS IN TOKYO. VOLUME 1 of 4 PETER NY BUHL of PNB COFFEE

FOREIGN BARISTAS IN TOKYO. VOLUME 1 of 4 PETER NY BUHL of PNB COFFEE

Release Date: Jul 13, 2017

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, and the road leading up to coming to Japan.

My name is Peter Ny Buhl, I’m 24 years old and have lived in Tokyo since September 2014. I am the owner and daily manager of a PNB Coffee in the Nakameguro area of Tokyo.
I think for me it all started back in January 2013, when I set out on a round the world trip. One of the places I was lucky enough to spend a couple of months traveling was Japan.
So after returning to my native Denmark and growing restless I got a working holiday visa to Japan, been here ever since.

2. What was it like setting up shop in Japan? Tell us about some of the hurdles you had to overcome.

I actually think setting up a shop here is straight forward. There is a lot of paperwork involved and that part is relative time consuming. But from renting once you found a location, construction to opening actually runs relative smoothly. People work effectively and organized.

3. How would you describe PNB to someone who’s never been? What can one expect and what’s on the menu?

I would describe it as a little different compared to your “standard” speciality coffee shop, in that sense we have decided to focus on “handcrafted” coffee. Meaning drip and aeropress coffee only. Not that I don’t like espresso coffee, but think a lot of times it crates more of a barrier then a bridge between the customer. Furthermore I have decided to work very close with two danish coffee roasters, La Cabra Coffee from Aarhus and The Coffee Collective from Copenhagen. They both roast super light and together with the amazing coffee they source, we then a able to serve this amazingly fruity coffee. So you can expect some super delicious drip coffee.

4. What’s it been like working in Tokyo? What type of things are you focusing on?

Working in Tokyo has been great! Customers here have been really open to our concept.
For us we are really trying to focus more on the communication. Making the whole coffee experience as transparent as possible, so people can get a better idea how their coffee is made. We have felt by removing any barrier from the counter and make it really open that a lot of people approach us, which then in turn has allowed us to talk more about the coffee itself.

5. Tell us about the coffee culture in Tokyo compared to back home.

I feel the culture is much more laid-back here compared to back home maybe. I feel it’s much more social and a lot of shops do an amazing job when working with community. I feel here in Tokyo there are now several festivals, namely Tokyo Coffee Festival and partially Coffee Collection. I think these festivals have done an amazing job in showcasing coffee shops and really bring specialty coffee to consumers and not having lot of bigger companies advertise and show off at the festivals.
At the same time I feel the culture from the shop viewpoint, hope this dosent offend, is less professional in a sense. When I visit speciality shops back in Scandinavia, I get an instant sense of people being coffee professionals. They have a clear philosophy, taking radical decisions about everything, from how they buy their coffee, how they roast, cupping protocols etc. All that combined a lot of times make me feel its a more exclusive product, which I see as a good thing. I feel to many shops here in Tokyo they treat the product, speciality coffee, more as a fashion product then to pay the respect I feel it deserves.

6. Following on from coffee culture, in your opinion what is the industry’s biggest strength and biggest problem at the current time?

I think we need to continue to work closer with the people who produce the coffee. Without the farmers we wouldn’t be able to serve this amazing coffee, and a lot of times I think they get too little of the credit. Thats why I love working with La Cabra Coffee and The Coffee Collective. They do an amazing job in talking a lot about the farmers. I think one of the biggest problems is that I feel a lot of coffee is being sold as “specialty coffee” without it delivering on the quality that justifies the name.
But I think the biggest strength is that coffee is a product that can appeal to a lot of people. I think it really allows people to try the whole spectrum. Its a product everybody can afford, if we compare it to wine its only a select few who really get to try the finest and rarest burgundies. But everybody if they wanted to could justify spending maybe 1000yen on a cup of the finest and rarest coffees.  And that is where I really love coffee. It’s a high end luxury product that most people can actually participate in.

7. Can you give us some insight in regards to Japanese baristas/staff. Tell us about their attributes and their style of work.

I think baristas work with great precession here, especially for their espresso. Hard to find a espresso that hasn’t been extracted properly. I think a lot of baristas tend to be a little technical focused, but also very dedicated in delivering a good product. There’s a lot of dedication to learn and train in order to become better.

8. How do you enjoy Tokyo when you’re not at PNB?

I mostly just enjoy riding my bike and exploring new neighborhoods (coffee shops). But also Tokyo has an amazing food scene, so I really enjoy finding new places to eat. Tokyo is super diverse, I live near Shimokitazawa and love exploring that neighborhood. But I always get amazed when I go to areas like Ginza or Asakusa, its like visiting a whole different city, very different from the Tokyo I know.

9. For those who are coming over to Japan, please give us some good tips (doesn’t have to be coffee related!).

Top tip is to travel outside of Tokyo! Japan is an amazing country and I think more people should really see other parts than just Tokyo (and partially also Kyoto). Much less touristed and people are genuine and kind. I always recommend people to visit Fukuoka- I think they offer probably the best dining scene in all of Japan, especially when compared to the city size.

You can follow Peter on instagram here @pnbcoffee

 

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Interview by Vaughan (@vja)
Photography by Nik van der Giesen (@nvdg81)

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