Toshiaki Ishii’s obsession with coffee started 14 years ago when he pulled his first shot of espresso. “It was delicious,” he says. “I was still training, and it really surprised me how easy it was. But the next day I found the opposite to be true. I couldn’t believe it: what tasted good in the morning could taste bad in the afternoon.” After that first espresso shot, it was the difficulty, challenge, and depth of coffee that intrigued him. Back then, Ishii was working at a stand at Tokyo City Keiba at Oi.
He explains that his first connection to coffee was much earlier when his parents owned a kissaten. Ishii inherited his mother’s love of coffee and was drinking it black as early as fifth grade. He talks us through his coffee history as we sit in Amameria Espresso’s newest location: a dedicated roastery in the middle of the Gakugeidaigaku neighborhood. The place feels like a reflection of his personality: humble, unassuming, and even shy.
“I studied on my own, went to seminars, and gathered information,” he says. “As a result, I fell into roasting. I thought if I wanted to perfect espresso, I needed to roast. Little by little, I gained experience so I could open my own shop.” That shop was Amameria Espresso, which opened seven years ago in the Musashikoyama neighborhood. Like the Gakugeidaigaku area, it is fairly quiet and largely made up of houses, parks, and everyday life. He says choosing locations is about finding the kind of neighborhoods he can see himself living in, finding the right pace and community.
“We opened the roastery because the roasting load at Musashikoyama was getting to be too much, and we couldn’t move a bigger roaster into our little cafe space,” he says. “Also, I thought a local neighborhood was a nice area to set up in, that maybe people would be interested in a place offering something new, and a little different. We might only reach a few people, but that would be nice.”
Ishii talks about coffee in a calm, even manner, and he’s clearly humble about his work. His shops are fascinating for the way they share this humility; regulars and locals don’t know Ishii as a Q Grader, or a Specialty Coffee Association–approved cupping judge, or a regular judge at barista championships, and they don’t know his baristas—such as Yuta Ueda—as Japan Brewers Cup champions. They simply know Amameria as the place they go for a cup of coffee or a fresh bag of coffee beans.
“The reason I first fell for coffee was that I didn’t understand it,” says Ishii. “When I was obsessed with espresso, it was because nobody knew how to get the most out of it, so we all worked at it together. That desire to learn more about it and make it better, that’s what makes coffee appealing. I still feel like that: Even though I have a handle on roasting and extraction, there’s still so much I can do and learn. There’s no end to it.”
It seems as if Ishii’s approach to coffee is a blend of kissaten tradition with a new world approach. The beans and the brewing feel contemporary, but the vibe is always relaxed, local, and unassuming. This feeling seems to start with Ishii and spread through Amameria. There’s no rush and no bravado; there is simply the enjoyment of carving out a home in the coffee world and sharing discoveries with people who visit.
The new roastery is a result of increased demand, and Ishii feels increased quality is a key factor in this. He hopes that with rising quality and more variety, Japan will see a range of shops open up; some famous for light roast, some for medium, and some for dark. In many ways, the new space is a good example of the spread of Japanese coffee culture, reaching out through local neighborhoods, one coffee shop at a time.